The Aurora policeman charged in a Florida road rage incident has pleaded not guilty to two charges in connection with the incident, according to Lee County Florida court records.

Officer Joseph LaPerna, 49, is on unpaid leave from the Aurora Police Department while his case is pending. He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a third-degree felony, and improper exhibiting of a firearm, a first-degree misdemeanor, after an incident on March 3.

LaPerna was charged after Florida authorities responded to a report of "highway violence" on I-75 heading south toward Naples, Fla. The Florida Highway Patrol said LaPerna and the occupants of a Toyota "became involved in a road rage incident," during which LaPerna allegedly brandished a Glock 43 pistol at the Toyota’s occupants. He was arrested and taken to the Lee County Jail. An arraignment is scheduled for April 1 in Lee County.

LaPerna was in Florida near Cape Corral job-searching on that day, according to Aurora Police Chief Brian Byard, though not because he was currently under threat of termination.

LaPerna was fired from the Aurora Police Department in 2006 for another road rage incident, but was reinstated following negotiations and appeals with the police union, the Aurora mayor and police chief at the time, and an arbitrator.

According to records from the officer’s personnel file that were provided by the Aurora Police Department following a public records request, LaPerna, who was off-duty and not in a police vehicle, chased down a couple driving a car that went left of center in 2006.

LaPerna followed the couple to their destination, which involved a medical emergency and a family member, said Byard. A confrontation followed, and police officers were called to the scene.

Under Aurora Police Department policy at the time, only vehicles equipped with sirens were authorized to pursue other vehicles. 

The case went before an arbitrator, an independent person hired to review the case, after LaPerna was terminated.

The arbitrator found that LaPerna was wrong to engage in the chase and violated his employment agreement with the department, but ordered a "last chance agreement" that required LaPerna to complete counseling. LaPerna also could not commit any further violations of the police department during a one-year term.

The agreement expired in February 2008.

Byard, who became police chief in 2014, said it is "very difficult" to appeal a decision after an arbitrator’s decision is made.

He added very few people have been terminated by the police force in his four years as chief. He said the most recent time the 34-member department terminated a police officer was in 2015, when a female officer was fired for multiple infractions. A handful of officers have been suspended without pay.

Terminations generally take from six months to a year to complete, he said, because the department does not want to prematurely terminate someone.

LaPerna continued to have problems with the department, though the 2007 agreement seems to have been completed successfully. His personnel file has several more instances where he was accused of wrongdoing after he was terminated. Byard said none of the infractions rose to the level of a terminable offense, other than the 2006 road rage incident.

After his reinstatement, LaPerna was written up between 2007 and 2014 for violations including improper conduct, leaving his firearm unsecured, insubordination, failure to follow a direct order, and unauthorized access to a dispatch work station.

In 2015, he was issued a written reprimand for unsafe speeds and unsafe acts during a vehicle pursuit, then a counseling letter for unsafe driving, followed by a suspension for unsafe driving in 2016. He was disciplined for sick leave abuse in both 2016 and 2017.

LaPerna was reprimanded as recently as December 2017, for being rude to people he had stopped for traffic violations. According to an email sent from Lt. Andrew Lumpkins to Byard and placed in LaPerna’s file, LaPerna appeared to be confrontational on a traffic stop with a man who later came to the station to pay his ticket and requested to speak with the lieutenant.

The man said that while he did fail to use a turn signal, which was what LaPerna cited him for, he also felt he was treated rudely by LaPerna, including listening to LaPerna make several "sarcastic remarks about driving in Florida is the same as in Ohio."

On Dec. 5, 2017, LaPerna stopped an 87-year-old woman who was going 51 mph in a 25 mph zone. The woman told LaPerna at the beginning of the stop that she was going fast because she needed to use the bathroom, but had soiled herself at the beginning of the stop, which lasted about 10 minutes.

"In both of these incidents, Officer LaPerna’s actions are lawful, but they are awful," Lumpkins wrote. "There is in no way, in either incident, that Officer LaPerna’s issuance of citations is carried out in a manner that promotes a positive public image."

LaPerna agreed to training after the incident; he later wrote an email to Lumpkins and Byard asking if he could be released from the training, saying it would be a stress on his family and that he felt he had been punished enough.

In October 2011, he was reprimanded for insubordination after a lieutenant ordered LaPerna to conduct an interview with a witness to a domestic violence case and he failed to complete the interview by the deadline imposed by the lieutenant.

The lieutenant said he had asked LaPerna about the follow-up four days before the deadline, and LaPerna had still failed to complete the task on time. LaPerna said he was confused about what he was meant to do, but did not ask for clarification from the lieutenant or from the arresting officer.

Not everything in LaPerna’s personnel file was negative. He was recognized twice by Mothers against Drunk Drivers for prevention of drunk driving, and received four thank-you letters from citizens.

LaPerna’s attorney did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Contact reporter Eileen McClory at or @Eileen_McClory.