Port St. Lucie assistant attorney gets 5-day suspension in drinking and driving case

PORT ST. LUCIE — Assistant City Attorney Gabrielle Taylor has been suspended for five days without pay following a mid-February incident in which she was stopped by a city police officer after he said she smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech and bloodshot eyes, and was swerving north on U.S. 1 at 60 mph, according to city documents.

Taylor was not given a field sobriety test nor cited, but instead was driven home by city police.

Friday, the city issued a disciplinary notice against Taylor for her off-duty conduct. A memo detailing the Feb. 18 events also was released.

The notice says Taylor, 45, will be suspended for five days without pay for violating city rules and regulations and is being given a "last chance" to modify her behavior. If in the next two years she engages in similar behavior she will be fired, the report states.

Taylor said in her written response that she is "terribly sorry" she inadvertently caused the city a disservice.

"These events are a stark reminder that we as government employees must live our lives in a fishbowl, both on and off the job, such that we do not open up the city and its dedicated public servants to criticism," Taylor wrote.

According to the notice, the city interviewed pertinent witnesses and reviewed the circumstances of the incident.

A memo written by Officer N. Lovechio, dated Feb. 18 at 4:27 a.m., recounts the early morning events which started outside of a bar on Southeast Port St. Lucie and Southeast Westmoreland Boulevards.

Lovechio said while on patrol duty in the area, he was abruptly flagged down by a taxi driver who was yelling and pointing to a vehicle pulling out of the plaza to head east on Port St. Lucie Boulevard. The driver was Gabrielle Taylor, Lovechio later said. The taxi driver yelled to officer to "go get her."

"He said that lady was drunk and just tried fighting him and that she got in her car and left," said Lovechio.

The officer said he followed the car, which was straddling the lane divider markers at about 50 mph, east bound on Port St. Lucie Boulevard. He witnessed the car swerving to the right about three times as they approached a red light on U.S. 1. He witnessed the vehicle slow down and then abruptly turn and stop in the northbound turn lane. Lovechio said he continued to follow the vehicle to determine whether the driver was driving under the influence.

After making a left onto U.S. 1, Lovechio said the car gained speeds up to 60 mph and was still swerving — that's when he pulled her over south of Tiffany Avenue.

"As I approached the vehicle, I could already smell the odor of alcoholic beverage emanating from the vehicle. I made contact with the driver who I knew to be Gabby Taylor. She stated to me ‘I'm one of you' " said Lovechio, who added Taylor identified herself with a Port St. Lucie police badge in hand.

The officer wrote he could strongly smell the odor of alcohol, she had slurred speech and when she looked directly at him, he could see her eyes were bloodshot and watery. He said Taylor wanted to pull her car up farther to the parking lot of the St. Lucie Draft House, a few miles north, and demanded Maj. Scott Bartal be called.

Lovechio stated to Taylor he had witnessed her driving and it seemed she was impaired due to alcohol.

"She demanded that I contact Bartal because she was not impaired and that she was just going to drive away because she was ‘one of you,' " states the memo.

Taylor continued to insist on speaking to Bartal or to be put through field sobriety tests because she was not "drunk." Lovechio explained to her he had experience and knowledge of driving under the influence and from what he had already seen "she should not be put through the field sobriety tasks because I would be taking her to jail for driving under the influence."

According to the memo, Taylor continues to search through her phone and repeats she's going to leave, although the officer tells her she's not and demands her keys. Lovechio finally grabbed her keys and told her to wait in her car while he contacted another sergeant, who arrived at the scene soon after.

Chief Brian Reuther said he became aware of the events around 9 a.m. on Feb. 18.

In a written statement Friday, Taylor said the events in the memo are "for the most part inaccurate." She agrees she did ask to take a field sobriety test but the officer refused. She said she accepts her suspension without challenge for the good of the city.

"The bottom line is that it was my personal activities that garnered attention and came under scrutiny," Taylor said. "This resulted in the totally unwarranted criticism of a professional determination made by a highly respected police lieutenant, his superiors, up to and

including the Chief of Police, Council members, the Mayor and the City Manager (Jerry Bentrott), and last, but certainly not least, my boss the City Attorney (Roger Orr) who came under specific concerted attack on my behalf."

According to Taylor's disciplinary notice, although the conduct was off-duty and therefore not reflective of Taylor's on the job work performance, it still fell below the standards for her position. In the notice signed, March 2, Taylor agreed to always act and conduct herself in a professional manner in her job duties, as well as while off-duty.

Mayor JoAnn Faiella said while she still has questions about the incident, it was not going to go unseen or unheard, and was going to be handled one way or another.

Councilwoman Shannon Martin said although she's not Taylor's employer, she should have been fired because she's still a liability for the city. She worries how in the age of Google neither Orr nor former City Manager Don Cooper thought to look Taylor up.

"One of the things that concerns me the most is the process. Was there a thorough background check when she was hired?" Martin asked. "When we bring in employees we need to look at our vetting process and policies."

Martin said Thursday she was waiting to see how Orr would discipline Taylor before holding him accountable. Friday, Martin said she alone can't deliver any disciplinary action against Orr, it has to be a council decision.

"I'm going to have to wait and see what happens," she said. "I will be speaking to him next week."

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