PITTSFIELD — After city police Sgt. Gary Herland stopped a motorist on Sept. 1 for driving the wrong way on a one-way street, he realized he had pulled over Andrea Harrington, the Berkshire district attorney.
She was cooperative and deemed not to be a risk, so after issuing a verbal warning, he sent her on her way.
It was only after she had driven away that he learned that Harrington was operating with a suspended license.
"Dispatch was running the license," according to Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn. "The officer was still at [Harrington's] car and released the car before he returned to his cruiser and got the license information. It was only after the stop was over and she was gone that he was advised that the license was suspended."
During an interview with The Eagle on Thursday, Wynn detailed the circumstances surrounding the traffic stop. The chief said he later called Harrington to inform her of the suspension.
The district attorney had been driving with a suspended license since Nov. 24, 2019, according to public records obtained by The Eagle. The suspension stemmed from failure to respond to a June 10, 2019, speeding citation issued in the town of Clinton in Dutchess County, N.Y.
Harrington has not responded to questions from The Eagle about the suspension, and instead posted to Facebook late Tuesday — a post she has since removed — that she had initially paid the New York fines to that state's Department of Motor Vehicles, but that it hadn't reached the Clinton Justice Court.
The suspension was lifted in New York state in March, according to a spokesman for the DMV, but it remained on the books in Massachusetts until Sept. 4 — three days after the traffic stop, her public driving record shows. The spokesman noted speeding fines would be paid to the town where the citation was issued, not to the agency.
Records from the Clinton town court were not immediately available this week.
Driving a rental
Herland pulled Harrington over at 2:39 p.m. Sept. 1 after spotting her driving the wrong direction on Gordon Street. She was driving a 2019 Black Ford Edge, a rental registered to Enterprise Rent-A-Car. It was not clear under whose name the vehicle was rented.
He most definitely knew "who he was dealing with," Wynn said of Herland. The officer was "very familiar with the operator, right to the point where he doesn't necessarily have to go any further with identifying them, and then returns to the car."
Herland judged that, given the offense was a minor moving violation, it was reasonable to let her off with a verbal warning.
Had he been aware of the suspension at the time, Wynn said, Herland would not have allowed Harrington to drive away. But by the time the officer learned of the suspension, it was too late to issue a citation or stop her from driving the car, he said.
"The officer immediately recognized that there was a potential for an appearance of impropriety," Wynn said. "He immediately reported himself. He immediately documented it."
That document, which Wynn asked him to write to document the timeline of the stop, has been requested by The Eagle. Wynn said he's waiting on a legal opinion about whether it can be released, since it could be classified as a personnel matter.
When asked why Harrington was not cited after the fact for the suspension, Wynn said that state law would make it hard to make a citation stick after she was let go.
"There's really nothing you can do at that point," he said. "Any citation or criminal charge from that point would have been very difficult for us to meet our burden of proof."
A Massachusetts statute, known as the "no fix" law, prevents police from "ticket fixing," and requires tickets to be given in the very moment and place of a traffic stop.
Wynn said any motorist caught with a suspended license would be prevented from driving the car away. This often involves finding another licensed driver who can drive the car so it doesn't have to be towed, Wynn said. He said he prefers options that place the least burden on citizens and the court system.
Harrington was one of two people given verbal warnings on a day when 30 others were handed citations, according to the Sept. 1 police logs.
But Wynn said that was not typical; on that day, there were extra officers out on traffic patrols as part of an enforcement crackdown funded by grant money.
He produced police records that show 60 verbal and written warnings and 119 citations given between Aug. 30 and Sept. 5; between Sept. 6 and Sept. 12 police gave out 21 verbal and written warnings and 22 citations.
Wynn brushed off questions about whether police could be intimidated by taking enforcement measures against the district attorney.
"We have a strong working relationship with the District Attorney's Office," he said, while acknowledging there had been a period of adjustment for the department when Harrington took office in January 2019.
"It's been a transition, but it's been a transition [Wynn and Harrington] both weathered, and I don't think that that would have had an impact on [Herland's] decision," he said. "We don't know because again, he made the call before he got that information."
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BE_bellow and 413-329-6871.