A Pinal County Deputy has been fired for repeatedly driving dangerously on duty. This is the same deputy who got a slap on the wrist last year when he was involved in a fatal on-duty crash while going nearly 100 mph.
CBS 5 News has learned the PCSO terminated Deputy Robert Steele after four separate complaints of unsafe and out of policy on-duty driving.
One of the incidents involved Steele blowing through a stop sign at 85 mph. The on-board car computer shows while he did have his lights and siren on, he did not slow or touch his brake to check for approaching traffic.
On another occasion, Steele drove the wrong way up a freeway off-ramp without justification. When asked about the incident, Steele said he was trying to get another deputy who was out with a subject who had a felony warrant. But computers show Steele arrived at the scene of the other deputy before it was revealed the subject he had stopped was wanted.
It's not the first time he has been investigated for his on-duty driving. In August 2012, Steele was seriously injured when his patrol car slammed into a truck driven by Jeffrey Sorenson near Gold Canyon Ranch. Sorenson was thrown from his truck and died.
The 57-year-old retired army officer was not wearing a seatbelt and was legally drunk. But investigators also determined Steele was driving just under 100 mph. The deputy did not have his lights and siren on, and he was not responding to a call or chasing a suspect.
The Department of Public Safety investigated the fatal crash and recommended Steele be charged with manslaughter. But Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles refused to charge Steele. An internal investigation took place and Steele was found to have violated a number of safety and conduct policies. For those violations, Steele received a 12-hour suspension.
[Related: 2012 Statement of disciplinary charges (PDF)]
The 12-hour suspension did not seem to get the message across to Steele. According to PCSO, in the months that followed Steele's co-workers and supervisor witnessed him driving unsafely. That's when he was placed on administrative duties and another investigation got underway.
When asked if Steele's original discipline was too lenient, since his violation of policies resulted in a death, the PCSO issued the following statement:
"The Professional Standards investigation related to the fatal accident was reviewed by the employee's entire chain-of-command for disciplinary action. As a result of the review, Deputy Steele was suspended based on the facts of the investigation and the lack of prior disciplinary history. There were never any allegations by citizens or our employees related to his driving prior to this accident or before he was disciplined for policy violations related to it.
"The facts of the AZ DPS investigation showed the other driver involved was extremely intoxicated, he had failed to lawfully stop for a stop sign, he failed to yield from the stop sign and he was not wearing his seatbelt.
"After Deputy Steele returned to full duty, according to co-workers and his supervisor they observed him driving unsafely. The employees reported his behavior and he was immediately placed on administrative suspension. At the conclusion of the Professional Standards investigation, the case was reviewed by the employee's entire chain-of-command for disciplinary action. The decision to terminate his employment was once again based on the facts of the investigation and now his prior discipline related to driving."
CBS 5 News also reached out to Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles to see if this new development has forced him to reconsider his refusal to file charges against Steele for the fatal collision. In an email statement, Voyles said:
"As I stated from the beginning, I will not categorize nor criminalize what appears to have been normal and accepted police activity. The Sheriff's Office terminated Deputy Steele based on internal policies and that decision has no bearing on criminal charges. Civil litigation is pending, and further comment would not be appropriate."
Steele was in the process of appealing his original suspension when he was fired. He is now appealing his suspension and his termination.
Steele also has filed a lawsuit against the estate of Sorenson for pain and suffering and emotional distress, as well as lost wages.
Sorenson's family has also filed suit against Steele, Pinal County and others for negligence and wrongful death.
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