Inside Internal AffairsSuffolk DWI police officer drank, drove, crashed, injured driver, refused breath test — yet escaped arrest
Newsday investigation reveals department punished Officer Weldon Drayton Jr. with loss of four vacation days for refusing a breath test after Central Islip crash. Injuries to Julius Scott are permanent. Commissioner Rodney Harrison calls findings “deeply disturbing.”
Off-duty Suffolk County Police Officer Weldon Drayton Jr. joined fellow members of the Central Islip Volunteer Fire Department in a St. Baldrick’s cancer-research fundraiser with beers at various bars across an afternoon and into the night. Then there was a call about a fire in Central Islip.
Drayton — a drunken-driving enforcement officer in Suffolk’s Highway Patrol — took the wheel of his Volkswagen with a friend and fellow firefighter in the passenger seat and sped toward the house fire, according to a police department internal affairs report obtained by Newsday.
On the way, he crashed into a Honda driven by 20-year-old Julius Scott, pushing Scott into the back seat, stripping the skin from the top of his head, wrapping the car around a light pole, and trapping Scott in the car’s twisted frame. Scott was less than a block from home.
Scott’s mother, Isabel Scott, heard the crash. A neighbor pounded on her door, screaming about Julius. Isabel Scott rushed to the scene and found her son fading in and out of consciousness. She lifted his torn scalp to cover his exposed brain matter and held his hand.
“I was scared, I was scared. I didn’t know if he died on me, or what,” she told Newsday.
Ambulances, fire trucks and specialized rescue crews arrived. They used a hydraulic device known as the Jaws of Life to extricate Scott. A helicopter airlifted him to Stony Brook University Hospital, a regional trauma center.
Police department protocol called for investigating the circumstances of the crash — including whether Drayton had caused near-fatal harm while driving under the influence of alcohol.
Instead, Suffolk police shielded a fellow officer from potential enforcement actions typically faced by civilians. Those could have included a drunken driving-related arrest, suspension of the driver’s license he needed to function as an officer and, most seriously, a felony assault charge, according to attorneys who defend drivers arrested for alcohol offenses.
The police department action, and inaction, after the crash are detailed in the internal affairs report.
“There’s no question objectively that things weren’t done by the book, and they were objectively done to benefit without a doubt a member of the police department,” said John T. Powers, a West Islip-based attorney who specializes in clients charged with driving while intoxicated and teaches continuing legal education courses on the subject.
Three years after the crash, then-Suffolk Police Commissioner Tim Sini honored Drayton for making the most DWI arrests in the First Precinct in 2016.
For Scott, the outcome was very different. Stony Brook doctors treated him in a medically induced coma for three days and kept him hospitalized for about a week. He suffered traumatic brain injury and damage to disks in his spinal cord.
Today, eight years after the 2014 crash, he lives with frequent headaches, throbbing pain emitted by scarring that extends from the front of his head to the back, and daily back spasms. He suffers mood swings and anxiety, especially about getting into other people’s cars. He is terrified of dying in his sleep, he said.
From trauma to anger
Drayton was penalized with the loss of four day’s pay or vacation time and a $150 ticket for refusing to submit to a field breath test.
Newsday left messages seeking an interview via email and on Drayton’s home and cell numbers. He did not respond.
The contrast between the permanent harm Drayton inflicted on Scott and the punishment meted out to him matches the central finding of Newsday’s Inside Internal Affairs investigation: The Nassau and Suffolk county departments have permitted officers to escape without discipline, or with minimal penalties, even in cases involving deaths or serious injuries.
For a half century, police disciplinary files in New York were sealed by law. In 2020, after a Minneapolis officer killed George Floyd, former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Legislature enacted statutes that they said opened the records to public view.
Invoking the Freedom of Information Law, Newsday then asked the Nassau and Suffolk police departments to release internal affairs documents related to specific officers and events, as well as data that tracks internal investigations from complaint to resolution. The records requests covered Drayton’s case.
The Nassau department claimed continuing power to withhold almost all internal disciplinary records. The Suffolk department maintained that it was obligated to release records only in cases where charges had been upheld against officers. Newsday is waging lawsuits against both departments with the goal of establishing that the public has a right to review how Long Island’s police forces police themselves.
After a delay extending almost 10 months, Suffolk’s department turned over a heavily blacked-out copy of the Drayton internal affairs report. The document revealed that the investigation substantiated a charge of conduct unbecoming an officer against Drayton.
It was only then that Scott learned through Newsday of Drayton’s punishment.
“My life was worth four sick days?” he asked in an interview.
Long Island’s two major police departments are among the largest local law enforcement agencies in the United States. Protecting and serving, the Nassau and Suffolk County police departments are key to the quality of life on the Island – as well as the quality of justice. They have the dual missions of enforcing the law and of holding accountable those officers who engage in misconduct.
Each mission is essential.
Newsday today publishes the fourth in our series of case histories under the heading of Inside Internal Affairs. The stories are tied by a common thread: Cloaked in secrecy by law, the systems for policing the police in both counties imposed no, or little, penalties on officers in cases involving serious injuries or deaths.
This installment reveals that a Suffolk County Police Department drunken-driving enforcement officer drove after drinking, crashed into another car, refused to take a breath test and still escaped arrest. The other driver suffered permanent injuries. The department penalized the officer with the loss of four days of vacation.
Newsday has long been committed to covering the Island’s police departments, from valor that is often taken for granted to faults that have been kept from view under a law that barred release of police disciplinary records.
In 2020, propelled by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the New York legislature and former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo repealed the secrecy law, known as 50-a, and enacted provisions aimed at opening disciplinary files to public scrutiny.
Newsday then asked the Nassau and Suffolk departments to provide records ranging from information contained in databases that track citizen complaints to documents generated during internal investigations of selected high-profile cases. Newsday invoked the state’s Freedom of Information law as mandating release of the records.
The Nassau police department responded that the same statute still barred release of virtually all information. Suffolk’s department delayed responding to Newsday’ requests for documents and then asserted that the law required it to produce records only in cases where charges were substantiated against officers.
Hoping to establish that the new statute did, in fact, make police disciplinary broadly available to the public, Newsday filed court actions against both departments. A Nassau state Supreme Court justice last year upheld continued secrecy, as urged by Nassau’s department. Newsday is appealing. Its Suffolk lawsuit is pending.
Under the continuing confidentiality, reporters Paul LaRocco, Sandra Peddie and David M. Schwartz devoted 18 months to investigating the inner workings of the Nassau and Suffolk police department internal affairs bureaus.
Federal lawsuits waged by people who alleged police abuses proved to be a valuable starting point. These court actions required Nassau and Suffolk to produce documents rarely seen outside the two departments. In some of the suits, judges sealed the records; in others, the standard transparency of the courts made public thousands of pages drawn from the departments’ internal files.
The papers provided a guide toward confirming events and understanding why the counties had settled claims, sometimes for millions of dollars. Interviews with those who had been injured and loved ones of those who had been killed helped complete the forthcoming case histories and provided an unprecedented look Inside Internal Affairs.
Newsday reviewed the information contained in the internal affairs file with five attorneys who represent clients charged with drunken-driving offenses, a criminal defense attorney and a lawyer who specializes in accidents. They found that police had shielded Drayton by:
- Failing to interview him at the crash scene, including by asking a first important question: Where had he been before the collision?
- Failing to subject Drayton to so-called field sobriety testing that officers use to get an initial read on whether a driver may be impaired.
- Allowing a Suffolk Police Benevolent Association delegate, who was on duty, to take Drayton away from the crash site — in effect buying time for Drayton’s body to metabolize any alcohol he may have consumed.
- Failing to take Drayton into custody after he later refused to submit to a preliminary breath test, or PBT, for alcohol.
- Failing to require Drayton to undergo a chemical breath test or blood testing for alcohol under threat of automatic suspension of his driver’s license, which is typically done when a driver declines to take a prescreen breath test and there are signs the driver is intoxicated.
- Downgrading the classification of the harm suffered by Scott from “serious physical injury” to “physical injury” — the difference between legal definition of felony and misdemeanor drunken-driving offenses.
Asked for comment about the findings of Newsday’s investigation, Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison, who assumed command of the department in December, wrote in a statement:
“While this incident occurred long before I joined the department, the circumstances surrounding this case are deeply disturbing. My message as commissioner is simple, absolutely no one is above the law and any case with these types of allegations will have my full oversight from start to finish.”
‘The circumstances surrounding this case are deeply disturbing.’Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison
Suffolk police officials said that the statute of limitations on disciplining officers had expired, ruling out the possibility of reopening an internal affairs investigation of Drayton’s actions.
Drayton joined the Suffolk County Police Department in 2010, after serving in the New York Police Department for three years.
While in the NYPD, he was the subject of six civilian complaints containing 16 allegations, according to New York Civilian Complaint Review Board records.
The complaints alleged that he had abused his authority, including by improperly using force; improperly conducting a personal search; refusing to provide his name and shield number; threatening arrest; making a retaliatory arrest; stopping someone illegally; and discourtesy.
None of the complaints was substantiated. He was exonerated in one case. The complainant and the alleged victim in two cases refused to cooperate with investigations. The NYPD closed three outstanding cases when Drayton resigned.
On the Suffolk force, Drayton won an assignment to the Highway Patrol Bureau’s Selective Alcohol Fatality Enforcement Team, known as SAFE-T, which targets driving while intoxicated. He also volunteered as a Central Islip firefighter.
On March 8, 2014, the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, fire department members took part in a fundraising drive for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which donates money to research for childhood cancers. The name is derived from the fact that many participants shave their heads bald as part of the event, creating the name of the fictional St. Baldrick.
Drayton acknowledged to internal affairs that he drank that day. He also gave the only recorded account of how much he drank and over how many hours. He stated that from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. he drank 7.5 beers and then stayed at Fatty McGees bar on Connetquot Avenue in East Islip without drinking until the fire call came in around 10:30 p.m. He did say, however, that he bought drinks for others at the bar.
Less than four minutes after the alarm, he was driving north along Lowell Avenue, a two-lane roadway that runs beside a residential neighborhood next to the Central Islip court complex. The speed limit was 35 mph. A witness, whose name is blacked out of the internal affairs report, reported that Drayton’s car was speeding and not flashing emergency lights.
Volunteer firefighters responding to a call in their personal cars must obey all traffic laws and are not required to display flashing lights, said Ed Johnston, chief of the Suffolk County Fire Academy.
“I saw headlights in my rearview mirror, and then a car passes me really fast. I was going about 40 mph, and the car that passed me was going really fast,” the witness, who had been driving his family home from church, told internal affairs investigators.
The firefighter friend who rode with Drayton told investigators that he “was giving Drayton updates from his phone reference the fire; he believes they were driving at 45-60 mph”
‘[Blacked out] was giving Drayton updates from his phone reference the fire; he believes they were driving at 45-60 mph.’Internal affairs report
Just then, Scott was trying out a newly repaired Honda owned by his friend Joshua Perez. Scott had come home from a birthday party for an 8-year-old niece at a skating rink, and Perez had suggested that he take the car for a ride, Scott and Perez said.
Heading around the block, Scott drove west on Satinwood Street and made a left onto Lowell Avenue. Drayton’s Volkswagen came around a curve about a block away and crashed into Scott’s moving Honda.
The impact happened at a right angle, according to a box checked on the police report. The Volkswagen hit the passenger side of the car, not the driver’s side. Scott theorized in an interview with Newsday that Drayton had made a last-moment attempt to swerve to avoid the collision.
Neighbors rushed to the scene. Some had been outside talking with members of Scott’s family, who had also come home from the birthday party. When Isabel Scott arrived, she saw flashing lights only on an arriving ambulance, she said. A police officer, whose name is blacked out, told internal affairs that the scene was “chaotic” and that “the bystanders were yelling and angry about the crash.”
Speaking with Newsday, Isabel Scott said that friends and family grew anxious because removing her son from the wreck seemed to take a long time.
“I had to calm them down, keep myself calm, and calm them down to get them away from the scene. Because they, the police, had no control over the crowd,” she said.
Drayton suffered no visible injuries. His passenger’s head hit the windshield and sustained a cut. Perez said there was little damage to Drayton’s car: The windshield was cracked, and the bumper and hood had small dents.
Facing angry neighbors while Isabel Scott cradled her son, Drayton got into a police car. She said Drayton never tried to help her son.
“Not one time did he come over here and find out. You’re a firefighter — he could have controlled that whole scene — but he didn’t,” she said.
After car crashes involving serious injuries, standard protocols direct officers to question motorists about, at a minimum, where they had been before the collision. That type of questioning would have placed Drayton at the St. Baldrick’s festivities, Powers said.
If police believe that motorists have consumed alcohol, the protocols require officers to observe whether the drivers have glassy eyes, are unsteady on their feet or have slurred speech, and to administer field sobriety tests, according to attorneys who represent drivers charged with driving while intoxicated.
There are three commonly used field sobriety tests: a gaze exam, in which an officer observes how eyes follow an object moving across a person’s horizontal field of vision; the walk and turn test, which involves taking nine heel-to-toe steps in one direction and back; and the one-leg stand, said Maxwell Glass, a criminal defense attorney who has taken the police field sobriety training courses.
Three ambulances arrived at the scene, along with fire trucks and police emergency vehicles. Drayton stayed in or around the police car.
The PBA delegate, Officer Jerome Linder, arrived around 11:30 p.m., having left his work shift in his personal car, even though he was on duty. Without informing police supervisors or seeking permission, he drove Drayton away from the crash site to Southside Hospital, according to the internal affairs report.
Drayton had not been questioned or tested. He later told internal affairs that he had complained to Linder that his shoulder, neck and back were starting to bother him.
Robert Brown, a criminal defense attorney and former New York Police Department captain, said Linder’s involvement suggests that Drayton feared alcohol testing.
“If I’m sober and I’m an active-duty member of the department, and I’m in a fender bender, why would I call my union rep?” Brown asked.
‘How is it that there wasn’t proper investigation done in a timely manner?’John T. Powers, drunken-driving defense attorney
Powers said: “How is it that there wasn’t proper investigation done in a timely manner at the scene before this person was removed from the scene? That is what is most surprising to me and most alarming to me.”
He added, “To me, the only reason Linder takes Drayton from the scene is that he suspects that this guy is intoxicated, or has been drinking, or else he would leave him at the scene.”
Linder did not respond to interview requests.
The attorneys also challenged an internal affairs finding that Drayton showed no evidence of alcohol use.
Some also questioned the account Drayton later gave to internal affairs of drinking 7.5 beers over 7.5 hours, a rate of consumption that, they said, would indicate he stayed sober all the time.
Powers pointed out, for example, that people rarely describe their consumption in halves and that the body typically expels the equivalent of one beer an hour.
At about 11:50 p.m. — roughly 20 minutes after Linder arrived — officers discovered that Drayton was gone, according to the internal affairs report.
After 20 more minutes — at around 12:10 a.m. — an officer called Linder’s cellphone. The call dropped. Eight minutes later, Linder called back and reported that he was at Southside Hospital with Drayton. Two more union officials met Drayton there.
At 1:10 a.m., more than two-and-a-half hours after the crash, a supervisor ordered officers to ask Drayton to submit to a preliminary breath test, the PBT, according to the internal affairs report. The Suffolk police department blacked out the supervisor’s name.
‘[Blacked out] evaluated Drayton’s state of sobriety, and requested that Drayton submit to a pre-screen breath test. Drayton refused this test.’Internal affairs report
The test entails breathing into a cell-phone-sized device that produces an initial reading of a driver’s alcohol level. Because it is an approximation of alcohol content, a PBT reading is not admissible as evidence in court.
Highway officers like Drayton regularly ask drivers to take pre-breath tests. They do so when they have reasonable suspicion that the motorists have consumed alcohol. If there is no indication of alcohol consumption, officers typically do not seek to administer the test, lawyers said.
“If they’re asking for a PBT, there has to be a reason,” Glass said.
Drayton refused to take the test. When drivers say no to the PBT, officers typically take them into custody and transport them to a precinct for more sophisticated chemical breath testing. Suffolk police used a device called an Intoxilyzer.
‘He should have been arrested.’Jonathan Damashek, vehicular accident legal expert
“He should have been arrested,” said Jonathan Damashek, a New York City-based attorney who specializes in car and truck accident cases.
Powers agreed: “They would tell you, ‘You’re under arrest. Put your hands behind your back. We’re bringing you in.'”
An Intoxilyzer, as a calibrated chemical test, is considered more accurate than a pre-breath test and is admissible in court. Refusal to take that test results in an automatic one-year license suspension.
“That did not happen in this case. The sole reason was he is a police officer,” said Michael Brown, who represented Scott in a lawsuit alleging that Drayton had been negligent behind the wheel while responding to a fire and the Central Island Fire Department had been negligent in supervising him.
If a driver has seriously injured or killed someone and refuses to take an Intoxilyzer test, police will seek a court order for a blood test to determine alcohol consumption, Sills said.
Asked why police didn’t seek a warrant for drawing Drayton’s blood, the department wrote in an emailed statement that police need “reasonable cause to believe” that a driver is intoxicated to apply for a warrant.
The department also wrote: “The IA report indicates that, based on the accounts of witnesses and involved members of the department, Officer Drayton did not evince any indicia of intoxication.”
A department spokesperson had no response when asked why police asked Drayton to submit to a prescreen breath test — which requires officers to have grounds to suspect intoxication.
Two days after the crash, internal affairs opened an investigation into whether Drayton and Linder had violated departmental regulations. The file indicates that it included a review of police documents and interviews with 10 witnesses, including three civilians and five officers, plus Drayton and Linder.
Those records show that Drayton told internal affairs he did not recall being asked to take a breath test — and that the lead investigator did not believe him.
“Drayton’s inability to recall these events is simply not credible, given his otherwise extensive recall of events both before and after the crash, as evinced in his interview,” Lt. Peter Ervolina wrote.
‘Drayton’s inability to recall these events is simply not credible.’Internal affairs report
According to the report, Drayton also said that he had moved among bars on a day off from work and had limited his socializing after 9 p.m. to buying drinks for others at Fatty McGees, none for himself.
Drayton told internal affairs that an officer offered him a seat in a patrol car to prevent a conflict with bystanders and that Linder suggested going to the hospital. Drayton also said that he remembered the three PBA officials who joined him at the hospital but didn’t recall being examined by a doctor.
The file also reveals that police on the scene made a determination that has potential legal consequences: They classified the crash as having caused “serious physical injury,” a designation that opens a drunken driver to felony prosecution.
Later, however, police downgraded the harm inflicted on Scott to “physical injury,” a misdemeanor designation, according to a memo sent by Internal Affairs Bureau Capt. Kevin Foley to Insp. Armando Valencia, the bureau’s commanding officer.
Asked to explain the change, the department wrote in an email that a detective “was advised by hospital staff that Scott’s injuries were non-life threatening.”
The state Penal Law defines serious physical injury as an injury that “creates a substantial risk of death,” lasting damage to health or lasting impairment. A drunken driver who causes that level of harm can be charged with the felony of vehicular assault. A drunken driver who causes physical injury — meaning “impairment” or “substantial pain” — is guilty only of misdemeanor assault.
It is a significant distinction when it comes to compelling a driver suspected of drunken driving to take a chemical test. The presence of just physical injury is not enough to get a warrant when a driver refuses a chemical test, said Eric Sills, an Albany-based attorney who has written a book on handling drunken driving cases.
“Serious physical injury is a prerequisite to a valid court order for a chemical test,” he said.
A month after the crash, internal affairs served Drayton with charges of violating rules and procedures. Whether the charge would be substantiated, and what his punishment would be, was then up to the police commissioner — except that the police contract gave Drayton the power to demand a ruling by an arbitrator. A hearing was set and then postponed.
In March 2015, Ervolina wrote a memo recommending that a charge of conduct unbecoming an officer be substantiated against Drayton for refusing to take the prescreen breath test. At the same time, his memo concluded that, based on the observations of people at the scene and Drayton’s statement, “Drayton was most likely not impaired at the time of the crash.”
Ervolina declined to comment through a department spokeswoman.
Fully four years after the crash, in March 2018, Drayton accepted the finding and penalty of the forfeiture of four days of accrued time.
‘Discipline imposed: Forfeiture of four days of accrued leave.’Internal affairs report
Suffolk County officials declined to release the arbitration file, and PBA attorney Christopher Rothemich did not respond to an interview request.
It was between the filing of charges and the punishment that Sini commended Drayton for making the most drunken driving arrests in the First Precinct.
Asked if Drayton was given preferential treatment as a police officer, the department said in an email, “The IAB investigation does not indicate that Drayton was afforded preferential treatment.”
Drayton honored for making DWI arrests
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone presented an award in 2017 to Officer Weldon Drayton Jr. as a member of a team assigned to curb drunken-driving. Drayton is no longer on the team.
The records also showed that Linder told investigators he had followed standard union practice in removing Drayton from the crash site.
“Linder felt that responding to a crime scene in his personal vehicle and removing one of the motorists involved in a serious crash at the scene, even though he was not involved in the scene in an official capacity, was common practice for a ‘union official’,” the file states.
Linder claimed that he had not seen the three ambulances at the scene and therefore did not consider having one of them take Drayton to the hospital, according to the file.
The investigation concluded that Linder violated department rules both by leaving his assigned post to go to the crash scene without notifying a supervisor and by driving Drayton away. Internal affairs recommended command-level discipline, which typically covers minor rules violations and can result in penalties including counseling, retraining or loss of accrued time.
By disputing the finding, Linder delayed a final resolution. He retired in 2018, closing the case without action, and collects an $83,228 annual pension.
While the department’s charges against Drayton were still open, the Central Islip Fire Department fought a series of blazes in abandoned houses in the community. In 2018, police accused Drayton and another firefighter of setting the fires. The department suspended him; the Suffolk district attorney’s office took him to trial.
The prosecution collapsed. Suffolk Supreme Court Justice John Collins dismissed the charges after witnesses gave conflicting testimony and the DA’s office admitted it had failed to provide Drayton’s defense lawyers with exculpatory evidence as required by law.
Drayton petitioned to return to duty as a police officer. In June 2020, an arbitrator reinstated him and awarded two years’ back pay. In 2020, his total compensation was $442,651. He filed a federal lawsuit against the department, alleging racial discrimination because he was the only Black man targeted in the arson investigation, according to court papers. The case is pending.
Although Drayton returned to work and is now assigned to the Second Precinct, the internal affairs investigation compromised his ability to testify in drunken-driving cases. The district attorney’s office has alerted defense lawyers in at least seven cases to the internal affairs findings against Drayton, enabling the attorneys to use the information to undermine his value as a witness.
“Can you imagine getting him on the stand?” Damashek said. “His credibility would be impeached immediately. He would get destroyed on the stand.”
Defense attorney Gregory Grizopoulos said that the information about Drayton’s crash helped him win a significantly reduced punishment for a client arrested for allegedly driving while intoxicated: The man would escape with a noncriminal traffic infraction if his record stayed clean for a year.
In 2021, the police department paid Drayton $285,000, according to payroll records.
Scott has been less fortunate.
Left unable to focus well because of brain damage, Scott could not work for more than four years. He took a $14,000 loan to pay his bills and secured a $180,000 settlement of his lawsuit. Jeremy Cantor, an attorney for the Central Islip Fire Department, declined to comment.
Scott now works as an Amazon driver. His friend, Perez, can’t shake the memory of Scott’s cracked skull and swollen face. His mother, Isabel Scott, said that passing the corner where her son nearly died is still “heart-wrenching.”
“I never want to know that feeling of losing a child,” she said.
Scott said he makes a point of enjoying every day because he feels life is a gift now. But he remains angry that Drayton failed to help him immediately after the collision.
“He’s supposed to be a cop. He’s supposed to be a firefighter. He’s supposed to be people that protect us. And he just tried to leave me there,” Scott said.
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