I TEAM: Officer back on patrol charged with driving drunk

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RICHFIELD, Ohio - The FOX 8 I TEAM has found a local police officer recently arrested for driving drunk is now back on patrol even with criminal charges against him still pending.

Last month, the Ohio Highway Patrol arrested Richfield Police officer John Hetzel. A trooper arrested him in Akron for weaving and driving drunk at nearly twice the legal limit. He has plead not guilty in court, and the charges are just beginning to move through the system.

But Monday, Richfield Police confirmed Hetzel is back on patrol.

State records list Hetzel’s driver’s license as suspended. Akron Municipal Court granted Hetzel driving privileges for work and doctor’s visits. But we investigated. Should an officer facing criminal charges be driving a police car catching bad guys?

We went to the Richfield Police station. A supervisor told us the Chief’s on vacation. Lt. Joe Davis admitted Officer Hetzel could possibly stop drunk drivers even while his drunk driving case is pending.

Davis said the decision to allow Hetzel back on patrol while his case is unresolved went all the way to the top. Davis said, "The privileges say he can drive to and from work, and while at work. and that decision was made by the administration to allow him to drive while he's at work."

What’s happening in Richfield, in this case, would not be happening in the Cleveland Police Department. The I TEAM checked. Generally, when a Cleveland officer gets arrested for drunk driving, the officer gets put on restricted duty until the case moves through the courts entirely. Restricted duty refers to assignments that do not involve dealing with the public.

Lt. Davis added Hetzel had been on restricted duty from the time of his arrest until getting the driving privileges granted.

We stopped by the Mayor’s office. She wasn’t in, and she did not return a message.

Hetzel also did not return a message.

Judge Nicole Walker tells the I TEAM, she approved driving privileges in this case the same way she does in any case using the same standards. As for the officer patrolling, the Judge said that is up to his department.

Some citizens we met in Richfield don’t like it. One man said, "When I was working, I had a company car, and if I had a DUI, I'd lose my job."

But for now, officer Hetzel is fighting charges and enforcing the law all at once.

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