TWINSBURG — Police have charged a Cleveland police captain with having physical control of a vehicle while under the influence, a first-degree misdemeanor, following an incident in which officers found the man had apparently been driving drunk, but released him without charges late Christmas night.

In a statement, Police Chief Chris Noga said the department has now charged the officer with a first-degree misdemeanor physical control offense and has taken steps "to prevent something like this from happening again."

On Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019 at around 11:21 p.m., Twinsburg Police officers responded to a report of an erratic driver operating on I-480 found Capt. John Sotomayor stopped in his Ford F-150 pickup on the side of I-480 eastbound about a mile before the Route 82 exit. 

Noga said that the first officer on the scene "observed indicators of impairment" while speaking with Sotomayor.

He said that officer and a Twinsburg police sergeant who arrived on scene made a decision to release Sotomayor to his wife, "who was already enroute," and to impound his vehicle. Noga said Sotomayor was charged with having physical control of a vehicle while under the influence "after an administrative review and consultation with the Law Department."

Noga said Sotomayor was booked on the charge at the Twinsburg Police Department and released on bond, but did not specify the date.

In body cam video, the officers can be heard identifying Sotomayor as a Cleveland police captain wearing his service pistol on his hip.

The Twinsburg officers said he was obviously intoxicated and had urinated on himself and the initial officer on scene contacted Cleveland police by phone. While informing Cleveland police that they were confiscating Sotomayor’s sidearm, the officer said they were offering Sotomayor a "courtesy" by allowing his wife to take him home.

The Cleveland Police Department’s public information office did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story, or a previous story on this incident.

In his statement, Noga said "poor choices were made on Christmas night," starting with Sotomayor’s decision "to place the public in harm’s way."

Noga said a "second poor choice" was made by his officers in treating Sotomayor differently from anyone else.

"While the officers ensured that an impaired individual would not drive away, the fact that Mr. Sotomayor is a Cleveland Police officer should not have weighed any differently in this situation. In fact, this should hold greater weight as the choice to not arrest Mr. Sotomayor that night has affected public trust not only for us, but for law enforcement as a profession," Noga continued.

"Police officers are human beings and human beings make choices that sometimes do not align with an organization’s preferred way of handling a situation. As the leader of the Twinsburg Police Department, I take responsibility for this lack of alignment."

Noga said the department has "reviewed the incident to ensure that our policies and philosophies are the correct tools needed by our officers to prevent something like this from happening again as well as what is needed to restore any lost confidence by our residents in our department."

The Twinsburg Police Department policy on impaired driving, part of the departments’ standard operating policy manual, states the department is "committed to the safety of the roadways and the community and will pursue fair but aggressive enforcement of Ohio’s impaired driving laws."

Noga said both officers have been counseled regarding their decisions that night.

"As a result of this incident, we have to learn from this and perform better, both as an agency and as individuals," he said.

Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or emarotta@recordpub.com.