RACINE — The Racine Police Department sergeant accused of striking an occupied vehicle during a drunken-driving crash — injuring a woman in the process, and then fleeing the scene — pleaded guilty to a single charge in court Friday and will spend 30 days in the Kenosha County Jail as a condition of probation.
Samuel Stulo, 43, pleaded guilty to a first-offense misdemeanor count of causing injury while operating under the influence. The rest of the charges, a felony count of hit-and-run involving injury and a misdemeanor count of causing injury while operating with an prohibited alcohol concentration, and traffic citations, were dismissed.
After the sentencing, Racine Police Chief Art Howell confirmed via text Friday that Stulo will remain on paid administrative leave while the Police Department makes a decision regarding any potential disciplinary action related to the incident. Howell anticipated a decision by the end of June.
The charges stem from a Dec. 17 crash in the 1900 block of State Street. A woman was severely injured in the crash and had to be extricated from her vehicle.
Special Prosecutor Margaret Drees, from the Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office, pointed out what she called “the elephant in the room” — Stulo’s job as a police officer, and said his profession “cuts both ways” in this case.
On one hand, Drees pointed to the fact that Stulo has an admirable profession and a lot of positive attributes. On the other hand, she said his job holds him to a higher standard, which has caused a lot of backlash.
“I don’t believe the defendant met that standard, either in driving drunk that night on its face, or with his conduct after the accident,” Drees said.
The Kenosha County D.A.’s office was asked to prosecute the case so that any potential conflicts of interest that could have arisen from the Racine Police Department’s regular interaction with Racine County Circuit Court regarding criminal cases would be avoided.
Stulo’s attorney, Patrick Cafferty, said that Stulo has suffered a lot of consequences as a result of the incident, including “reputational damage” and public embarrassment, as well as criminal repercussions from the case.
“He has lived an excellent life. He is a longtime member of this community. He was born and raised here. He has served as a coach, as a mentor for youth,” Cafferty said. “Character-wise, he is an excellent person. He has been a great citizen of this community. He made a serious error in judgement that night, not only to get behind the wheel of a car after drinking but to have then caused this accident.”
“I’m extremely embarrassed and ashamed of what happened that evening,” Stulo said during the hearing. “I expect better of myself and I let a lot of people down in my family, in my community, in my law enforcement community.”
Stulo said he was making a lot of positive changes in his life, and apologized for his actions. “I want to apologize to the community, my family, the people that respect me and I will do better,” Stulo said.
Racine County Circuit Court Judge Faye Flancher said that anger and alcohol combined lead people to do things they wouldn’t do under normal circumstances.
“There is no doubt that this case made front-page news in the local newspaper, primarily, Mr. Stulo, because you are a Racine Police officer, and you know, I agree with the prosecutor, that really does cut both ways. As a police officer you are held, we all are, to a higher standard,” Flancher said.
Stulo is required to report to the Kenosha County Jail on June 22 to serve time behind bars.
Future in RPD?
When recommending probation, Drees said she and Cafferty have differing views on whether Stulo’s employment should be a determining factor in the sentencing.
“I already told attorney Cafferty that obviously, I have no control over whether or not the defendant maintains his employment; however, I don’t believe that the sentence given to him should be different just so that he can keep this job,” Drees said.
The issue of interlock order was also brought up, as it would affect Stulo’s employability with the RPD. Although an interlock order is typically part of a OWI sentence, a stipulation was made in this case that Stulo would wear an ankle monitoring device and be part of a 24/7 alcohol sobriety program.
Cafferty said that if Stulo does not maintain sobriety, he would be removed from the program and placed on an interlock order with no time given for time on the sobriety program. “If that occurs, he will be unemployable, because no police department is going to allow him to drive a squad if he needs and interlock device,” Cafferty said.
“With the criminal adjudication process now complete, the internal process may now proceed,” Howell said. “I will obtain all documents associated with the criminal adjudication process which will be used to inform the decision-making process relative to Sgt. Stulo’s future with the department. A decision is expected after all information is received, reviewed and evaluated. We hope to have this process completed by the end of the month.”
During the hearing, Drees mentioned Stulo’s behavior after the crash: “The defendant did try to use his position as a police officer both to get the Racine Police Department to not call the Sheriff’s Department and to not arrest him, and with the Sheriff’s Department again to not be arrested.”
When asked how those remarks would affect the decision about Stulo’s employment, Howell said: “We will obtain all reports associated with the case and consider all factors involved.”
Howell said he will use the information in the internal investigation to decide how to proceed with Stulo’s employment. If Stulo is not happy with the chief’s decision, he could appeal it to the Racine Police and Fire Commission.
When asked if the commission could appeal his ultimate decision, Howell said, the question was equivalent to “A Circuit Court Judge appealing a case before the case has been brought before the court system.”
“I can’t rule on the case until I have all the facts, and the PFC can’t respond to my ruling until I document my findings,” Howell said.
Although Stulo’s attorney, Cafferty, is a member of the Racine Police and Fire Commission, he said Friday that he has already spoken with Commission President Keith Rogers and has recused himself from any discussion with the commission involving Stulo’s employment.
“I’m extremely embarrassed and ashamed of what happened that evening. I expect better of myself and I let a lot of people down in my family, in my community, in my law enforcement community.” Racine Police Sgt. Samuel Stulo