Sheriff begins process to fire 2 officers over statements related to fatal crash
The sheriff filed formal charging papers with the county Police Merit Board requesting the termination of Corporal Brad Bauters and Corporal James Hart.
"As a result of these two officer's incomplete and false statements made about the incidents that occurred on February 5, 2021, I've made my own decision to terminate them for their actions,” said Sheriff Redman. “I have an obligation to maintain public trust and the accountability of our officers to our citizens. I believe these officers’ actions were isolated and do not reflect on the many other honest and dedicated officers of the St. Joseph County Police Department."
Sheriff Redman also said, "I would also like to extend my thoughts and prayers to Kassandra Zwierzynski and her children, especially to Giuliana, as she continues to heal and recover from her injuries. And also, to the Stopczynski Family for the loss of Stephen."
Bauters and Hart responded to two traffic crashes involving Stopczynski on February 5, the first at 3 p.m. and the second, fatal crash, at 7:45 p.m.
The sheriff says an anonymous tip came in on February 6 that county officers had interacted with Stopczynski several hours before his fatal crash. He then ordered an investigation into the crash on Crumstown Highway near Pine Road.
The officers stated in their reports regarding the 3 p.m. incident that they did not witness signs of intoxication or impairment, the sheriff said.
Based on these reports, the police department released a statement on March 10 saying the officers didn't witness signs of intoxication.
After officers created a timeline of Stopczynski's events on the day of the fatal crash, witness testimony contradicted information provided by the two officers, Bauters and Hart, reports said.
On March 26, both officers were suspended from duty.
Following an investigation that included interviews with 21 people, and polygraph examinations, the police department determined Bauters and Hart's statements were incomplete and misleading, reports said.
Specific statements include, according to the sheriff:
- Cpl. Bauters stated in his report that Stopczynski “wasn’t stumbling or falling over on a somewhat icy driveway,” he later admitted that he saw Stopczynski shuffling or stumbling around as he was getting things out of his car, and that he noticed Stopczynski was off balance.
- Cpl. Bauters also admitted that he told the person who picked up Stopczynski, “I’m cutting him a break.”
- Cpl. Hart stated in his officer’s report that Stopczynski “told me he had not been drinking,” Hart later admitted that, after pressing Stopczynski further, Stopczynski told Hart, “I had one beer after work.”
- Cpl. Hart also admitted that, after he and Bauters left the scene of the 3 p.m. incident, they met up a little further down the road and, during their discussion, Bauters said that he thought that Stopczynski was intoxicated.
The investigation revealed the officers did not run Stopczynski's license plate, driver's license or perform sobriety tests, reports said. Stopczynski had an active warrant and his vehicle was not properly plated at the time of the 3 p.m. crash.
Sheriff Redman said “I am glad that the officers separated the subject from his vehicle and made him get a ride home. However, the officers certainly could have done a more thorough job during the earlier incident. I wish they had owned up to that in the days following it, instead of trying to hide it. Due to those actions, I have no choice but to terminate them based upon their dishonesty during our investigation.”
Later in the day, at 7:45 p.m., Stopczynski crashed into Kassandra Zwierzynski's vehicle and severely injured Giuliana, an 8th grader.
Stopczynski died as a result of the crash.