Officer Michael Szeliga was to be honored by the Mothers Against Drunk Driving group for arresting more than 100 people for driving under the influence of alcohol. But when the time came for him to accept his MADD award, Michael Szeliga was too intoxicated to go on stage.
The Huffington Post reported on the ironic and embarrassing incident. Michael Szeliga is a deputy for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department. In July, Officer Szeliga was invited to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving awards banquet for making a substantial contribution to the community by cutting down the number of drunk drivers on the road. But long before the MADD awards ceremony, Michael Szeliga started knocking back a few too many beverages himself.
Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent reportedly saw the officer stumbling around outside the awards venue and told him he was too drunk to accept the award.
“I said, ‘You don’t want to embarrass the sheriff here — that’s probably not too wise,” said Vincent. “Apparently, he did.”
Instead of gracefully acknowledging his drunkenness and going home, Michael Szeliga lashed out against the police chief with a series of “disrespectful” comments, according to documents from an internal affairs investigation. In order to keep Michael Szeliga from going on stage completely “wasted,” Vincent had to report to the officer’s supervisors, who then ordered Szeliga to return to his hotel room.
Michael Szeliga never accepted the Mothers Against Drunk Driving award, nor did he make a public appearance in his inebriated state. Despite the police chief’s attempt to avoid embarrassment, the story about Szeliga’s drunkenness still released to the public.
According to local news station WFLA, the drunken behavior of officer Michael Szeliga actually started much earlier than the awards banquet.
“The plot thickens,” said Tom Carey, former director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “It seems to be a lot worse than originally presented.”
Michael Szeliga and two other deputies had actually flown to Fort Lauderdale for two days of DUI law enforcement training, with the MADD awards banquet as a secondary excursion. Szeliga reportedly snuck a bottle of Jameson Irish whiskey into his luggage for the trip. The internal affairs document claims the officer’s drinking started long before the Mothers Against Drunk Driving event.
Not long after signing in to the first DUI training session, Michael Szeliga left for the hotel pool to drink cocktails with some other deputies who skipped out. Szeliga claimed the DUI training was no longer “relevant” to him because he’d become a detective soon.
While the officers were supposed to be preparing for the Mothers Against Drunk Driving banquet, the fire alarm sounded in the hotel. As it was going off, a DUI squad leader and Pasco County sergeant found Michael Szeliga half-naked and drunk in the hallway, wearing “nothing but boxer shorts.” His eyes were reportedly glassy and his speech was slurred.
“[Michael Szeliga] was pretty drunk when I saw him,” said Szeliga’s supervisor.
The DUI officer was suspended for violating Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office “Standard of Conduct” by being drunk while on duty and for disrespecting Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent.
Despite the embarrassing incident at the Mothers Against Drunk Driving banquet, colleagues say Michael Szeliga is still a good officer. While Szeliga himself has refused to make any comment about being too drunk to accept a DUI arrest award, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri spoke about the incident.
“It was wrong, and again, one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard of. When I first heard about it, that was (what) my reaction was. ‘Come on, you’ve got to be kidding me. Really?'”
Michael Szeliga now works as a detective in the sheriff’s crimes against children unit.
[Photos by Steve Eason and Joe Raedle/Getty Images]