Passaic officers fume after I-81 stop of Katrina relief

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:57

    STAUNTON, VA.—A sheriff in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley defended his deputy’s decision to halt what he described as a speeding and reckless convoy of New Jersey law enforcement officers heading home after Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. The Sept. 18 stop on Interstate 81 prompted a blistering attack by Passaic County Sheriff Jerry Speziale for the ``grief’’ his officers received. Augusta County Sheriff Randall D. Fisher said one of his deputies pulled over the convoy of 12 or more emergency vehicles from the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office after state police received complaints from other motorists about their driving. State police also confirmed the complaints from motorists along the winding, hilly stretch of Interstate 81. ``They were traveling at a high rate of speed, people were being run off the road,’’ Fisher said. ``He (his deputy) was basically asking the guys to cut their (emergency lights), slow down.’’ While the stop initially was adversarial, and some members of the convoy did not heed the deputy’s order to pull over, Fisher said the New Jersey officers left amid handshakes and back slaps with his deputy. ``We pretty much thought it was the end of the story,’’ Fisher said. But the same day, Speziale, made a searing telephone call to the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office and criticized the deputy’s actions. He also has publicly slammed the Virginia sheriff’s department for harassing his Katrina-weary officers. ``It’s a disgrace,’’ Speziale said in the telephone call, which Fisher played for The Associated Press. ``If you think that that’s not a disgrace, you should take the badge off your shirt and throw it in the garbage.’’ He said in an interview with The Star Ledger of Newark, N.J., ``We had just responded to the greatest natural disaster in the nation’s history. How about giving fellow officers an escort and courtesy instead of some grief?’’ Fisher said the deputy did extend the professional courtesy of not ticketing the officers even though they had been traveling at speeds of up to 95 mph and, he said, forcing motorists out of the passing lane. He also said he could understand the officers’ haste. ``I’m not defending anyone’s actions, but I’m sure they were anxious to get home,’’ Fisher said.