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CrimeFormer Braddock police officer to face trial in fentanyl DUI

22:35  20 may  2019
22:35  20 may  2019 Source:   post-gazette.com

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Blood taken from fired Braddock police Officer Renee Christine Jones may be the key evidence in a case in which she is accused of driving under the influence of fentanyl , which is slated for trial following a preliminary hearing Monday.

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Former Braddock police officer to face trial in fentanyl DUI© Provided by PG Publishing Co., Inc.

Blood taken from fired Braddock police Officer Renee Christine Jones may be the key evidence in a case in which she is accused of driving under the influence of fentanyl, which is slated for trial following a preliminary hearing Monday.

Ms. Jones, 27, of Monroeville, submitted the blood in question on Jan. 24, after a UPMC police officer said that she "almost walked into a door" at UPMC McKeesport, where she arrived at 3 a.m. to take part in a shooting investigation.

"She was very dazed and confused while she was at the hospital," Officer Jonathan Grabiak testified before District Judge Eugene Riazzi at his courtroom in McKeesport. "Her eyes were glassy. Her speech was slurred. She had dilated pupils."

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Officer Grabiak said he questioned her, but she didn't say much. "She didn't even know why she was in the hospital."

The hospital took a blood sample, he said. And in subsequent testimony Monday, Allegheny County police Detective Erik Schlarp said that an analysis by the Allegheny County Crime Lab showed the presence of fentanyl, at the level of 3.2 nanograms per milliliter. That result, and Officer Grabiak's observations, were enough to hold the case for trial, prosecutor Jacob Lehman argued to Judge Riazzi.

But a blood test done by UPMC showed no opioids, countered defense attorney Marc Daffner, who argued to Judge Riazzi that "there was some contamination that occurred” as the blood sample passed through multiple hands.

Judge Riazzi held for trial two counts of driving under the influence and one count each of driving on the right side of the roadway, careless driving and reckless driving.

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"Clearly this is a case for trial and the things you're talking about will be handled" in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Judge Riazzi told Mr. Daffner and Ms. Jones.

After the hearing, Mr. Daffner characterized UPMC's lab test as "negative for any opiates or any drugs at all.

"When we have, I guess, a set of results based on that same blood draw that are different from the set that came back from the crime lab, that definitely calls things into question."

He characterized Ms. Jones as "disappointed, as anybody would be, having to go through this, but at the end of the day she'll be fine."

He said she has been fired by Braddock and by another municipality at which she was also working part-time.

According to the criminal complaint against her, Ms. Jones was on duty on the early morning of Jan. 24, when county police dispatch attempted to reach her regarding a shooting. Because of her unresponsiveness, North Braddock officers "had to force their way into the Braddock police station to awaken Officer Jones," according to the complaint.

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A short time later a citizen "witnessed a Braddock police car driving erratically and striking a median," the complaint continued.

Roughly a minute later, Officer Grabiak saw a white Ford Taurus owned by the Braddock Police Department in the parking garage of UPMC McKeesport. It was parked in a place that blocked ambulance access, according to the complaint, and when Officer Grabiak and another officer approached the vehicle they saw the officer "passed out behind the wheel."

After Ms. Jones left the car and continued to behave erratically, Officer Grabiak concluded that she was under the influence of something, according to the complaint.

Formal arraignment is set for July 9.

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.

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