Necn Investigates: Trooper in Trouble

Mass. State Police Sgt. Sean Gately has a disturbing history of crashes and criminal charges

A Chelmsford, Massachusetts, woman was frozen in horror as she says a black Ford Explorer barreled through the intersection without warning.

"I was like completely scared. Like, I had no idea. I was screaming," she said. "It was coming right head-on and I was like screaming -- I hope he stops -- and I was scared to death."

She doesn't want to show her face on camera because she fears repercussions from the driver of that SUV: 48-year-old Massachusetts State Police Sgt. Sean Gately. The veteran trooper is on probation without pay after prosecutors say he was off-duty and driving drunk in Chelmsford's Central Square last month when he allegedly ran a red-light, totaling the victim's Honda Accord and leaving her with neck and shoulder injuries.

The 911 caller told the dispatcher, "I need somebody here pretty quick because this guy's gotta be completely hammered."

In their report, Chelmsford Police officers describe Gately as having a "light odor of an alcoholic beverage emanating from his person as he spoke," but according to police records, Gately, who "did not wish to say" whether or not he'd been drinking, later blew a .25 on a Breathalyzer -- more than three times the state's legal limit.

"That almost defies imagination. A .25 is extremely intoxicated. A lot of people would not be conscious -- they'd be asleep," attorney Peter Elikann said.

And this isn't the trooper's first brush with the law: Gately's driving record goes back decades with criminal misdimeanors of speeding and reckless driving, along with five surchargeable accidents. In a number of those crashes, witnesses say his SUV crossed into the wrong lane of traffic, hitting oncoming cars, but left the scene before police could get there.

"Everybody's entitled to one mistake," Elikann said, "But if there really is a huge, huge number, just kind of layering one on top of another..."

One of those incidents plays an important role in Gately's most recent drunk driving charge. It happened in 2008 in New Hampshire. According to court documents, a New Hampshire State Trooper pulled Gately over on Interstate 93 in New Hampton for operating under the influence of alcohol with an open can of Bud Light in his personal vehicle. He refused a Breathalyzer and was charged with drunk driving, but then, two weeks later, was allowed to plead to that lesser charge on his record - reckless driving  It was disappointing, says State Representative George Peterson.

"It looks like that's all he's had at this point - a slap on the wrist," said the Grafton Republican. "It has to be much more serious than that."

Because the OUI charge in the Granite State was reduced to reckless driving, Gately was treated as a first time offender for the Massachusetts drunk driving charge. At his arraignment in Lowell District Court last month, the judge suspended his license for 90 days and the judge allowed the case to be continued without a finding - "CWOFed" - for a year. That's not necessarily unusual for a first time offender, but it means that if Gately doesn't break any laws in the meantime, the case will be dismissed -- no conviction on his record.

"It's a roulette wheel," said Ron Bersani, who was intrumental in helping enact tougher drunk driving laws after his granddaughter Melanie was struck and killed by a repeat drunk driver. "Sooner or later, their number might come up and they'll either kill themselves or somebody else."

NECN wanted to know what Gately's bosses at the Massachusetts State Police thought of his checkered driving history, but citing an internal investigation, no one would talk on camera. They did release a written statement that reads in part, "The State Police condemn all instances of impaired driving and thoroughly investigate any allegation of such by a department member. Furthermore, any violation of the law or department policy is dealt with in a serious manner relying on a system of progressive discipline."

A spokesperson would not say what that progressive discipline has meant for Gately, who has been a trooper since 1986 and made $125,000 last year. The spokesperson cited personnel rules prohibiting the agency from releasing how or even if Gately has been punished over the years. His police union also had no comment.

At Gately's Woburn home, a woman ordered us off the property and nearby, at his parents house, a man who identified himself as the senior Gately had only good things to say.

"He's the greatest guy in the world," said Gately senior.

A good cop? We asked. "Oh, he's an excellent cop," he said.

Does he have a drinking problem, we asked? "I don't think so," he answered as he walked away.

Drinking problem or not, Rep. Peterson says Gately is a problem for the State Police and his duty status should be reconsidered.

"At a minimum, at least a desk job and not driving on the highway at the wheel of a cruiser," he said.

It's a move that would please the victim in the Chelmsford crash.

"He's supposed to make other people do the right thing and he's not following it. It's unacceptable. It frustrates me and scares me a lot," she said.

A State Police spokesperson said when their investigation is complete they will propose a discipline. Gately can either agree to the finding and discipline or demand a trial board. That process, he says, could take several weeks.

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