A Boston police lieutenant who was arrested for alleged drunken driving last weekend in Walpole had previously been fired by the department for leaving the scene of a crash where open beers were found in his vehicle, but then was reinstated via arbitration in 2018.
John Earley, a 25-year veteran who made more than $211,000 last year, was arrested in his driveway in Walpole early Sunday and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and negligent operation of a motor vehicle after a 911 caller reported an erratic driver.
Earley, 52, is on administrative leave and the department’s Bureau of Professional Standards is investigating the incident, according to police officials. A 2018 arbitrator’s decision shows Earley was previously fired over a 2015 incident where he crashed his vehicle into a backhoe around 2:30 a.m., following a snowstorm. (The decision did not give a location of the crash.) The crash came after Earley had patronized three bars earlier in the night.
Earley is one of five current sworn Boston police officers who were fired, only to be rehired through arbitration, which is an appeals process allowed under union collective bargaining agreements.
Such reinstatements have been singled out by Mayor Michelle Wu, who in 2021 advocated for eliminating binding arbitration for police in cases of certain serious offenses. She pointed to figures showing that over a 13-year period, arbitrators overturned nearly three-quarters of Police Department disciplinary decisions and nearly one-third of firings.
The Wu administration is in contract negotiations with police unions. One of those labor organizations, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, has filed a request for arbitration with the state Joint Labor-Management Committee, which is designed specifically to help municipalities come to terms with their police officers and firefighters or to reach agreement on procedures to resolve their disputes. This week, that committee accepted the union’s application. Discipline for officers who commit misconduct and the arbitration process that sometimes follows are among the main talking points in the contract discussions.
On Thursday, Police Commissioner Michael Cox called Earley’s situation “very disappointing.”
“We will hold people accountable that work here when they violate the law,” he said. “I mean, it’s as simple as that.”
That 2015 incident was not the first for Earley involving alcohol. According to the arbitrator’s decision in 2018, Earley, while off-duty, was involved in another incident involving “intoxicated conduct.” The decision does not offer details of that situation, noting only that it was resolved when Earley accepted a 30-day suspension.
That discipline did not stop his rise through the department. He was promoted to sergeant in 2008 and lieutenant in 2011. That same year, he was charged with drunken driving, according to a police report filed in Wrentham District Court.
According to the arbitrator’s decision, on Feb. 10, 2015, Earley ate dinner at home and went to a pub to watch a Bruins game. He would later go to two more bars — Limey’s Pub in Norwood and Corrib Pub in West Roxbury — before heading out before 2 a.m.
The arbitrator’s decision does not indicate where the incident happened, but noted that the roads Earley was driving on were still being cleared from an earlier snowstorm. Earley was in his truck and a backhoe was moving snow across a street. Earley, according to the arbitrator’s decision, recalled the backhoe stopping and reversing into his lane suddenly. He hit his brakes, but it was too late. He struck the backhoe and his airbag deployed.
A Boston officer, someone Earley had met at the Corrib earlier in the night, responded to the scene but no paperwork was exchanged. The officer took Earley home. His vehicle was left in the middle of the road, with keys in the ignition. Investigators later found open beer bottles in the truck, which was eventually towed.
An internal probe followed, and Earley was fired in 2017 for conduct unbecoming and non-conformance to laws. But an internal affairs investigation could not determine if Earley was impaired by alcohol while driving his truck. City officials alleged Earley drank at least five beers and “more than likely about eight beers” over a 5½-hour period, but investigators said that five beers would not put him over the legal limit, according to the arbitrator’s decision.
He did not take an alcohol breath test, investigators noted, and there was no blood test available.
In arbitration proceedings, the city argued that Earley, by his own admission, was involved in a car crash after drinking, and that he failed to exchange paperwork after the collision and abandoned his vehicle.
Earley’s union, the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, meanwhile, argued there was no witness testimony to establish that he showed any “telltale signs of impairment or intoxication.” The driver of the backhoe, they argued, was principally responsible for the crash.
The union argued that Boston had, at that time, never before fired a police officer for drunken driving or violating a traffic law, and that doing so was unnecessary.
To that point, the arbitrator, Tammy Brynie, agreed. In her decision, Brynie said firing Earley was “clearly an excessive and disparate penalty.”
In her July 2018 decision, she reduced his firing to a 45-day suspension without pay and restored Earley to his full position, ordering that he be made whole for lost wages, including detail and overtime pay, with the exception of the period of suspension.
This past Sunday in Walpole, nearly five years after Earley was reinstated, he was allegedly involved in a drunken driving incident. Police said that after Earley was flagged for driving erratically, they found himseemingly passed out at the wheel, parked crooked in a residential driveway on Jean Street, keys in hand, with the driver’s door open.
Earley had to brace himself to stand, slurred his words, was unable to form complete sentences, and offered a crumpled lottery ticket he had in his pocket when asked for his license, according to a police report.
When asked if he’d been drinking, Earley replied: “Oh, God, yeah.”
Andrew Ryan, Sean Cotter, and Tonya Alanez of the Globe staff and
correspondent Isabela Rocha contributed to this report.