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GREAT BARRINGTON — An off-duty town police officer arrested last month for allegedly driving drunk had more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in his bloodstream and told state police he was in emotional distress, according to court records.

Jonathan Finnerty, 37, of Lee, had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.17 percent when he was arrested, according to the incident report by a Massachusetts State Police trooper.

He is suspended from the Great Barrington Police Department, where he works full time.

It is the second OUI arrest of an off-duty police officer to hit the department in the past year.

Attempts by The Eagle to obtain information last month about the incident sparked questions about the legality of public officials to hide potentially damaging information about public servants, particularly police officers.

Finnerty was traveling westbound on Route 9 about 10 p.m. April 15 when a trooper spotted his Ford Explorer "all over the road," drifting in and out of travel lanes and braking erratically.

The trooper said Finnerty told her he had been traveling back to Lee after visiting a friend. Upon the arrival of two other troopers, Finnerty failed field sobriety tests and refused to take a portable Breathalyzer test, according to the report. Troopers say he at first denied that he had been drinking, then admitted it.

Finnerty eventually consented to a breath test, after he was taken to the state police barracks in Cheshire for booking.

While looking for Finnerty's cellphone in the vehicle, troopers said, they had found an open bottle of Corona Light that still was "cold to touch" and about a quarter full. On the rear floor was a six-pack of the same beer, with one bottle full and five missing.

Troopers say Finnerty was "cooperative and apologetic" but repeatedly mentioned that he was having several personal problems and said the death of his infant daughter in 2018 left him with "nothing to live for now" and that he "wanted to die."

Finnerty was taken to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield for a mental health evaluation, then cleared and soon released from police custody, according to the report.

He is scheduled to be arraigned in Northern Berkshire District Court on June 3 on one count of operating under the influence of liquor.

Finnerty could not be reached Friday, and town Police Chief William Walsh declined to comment. Town Manager Mark Pruhenski also did not respond to questions Friday.

Finnerty's arrest comes a year after another Great Barrington officer was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.

In April 2019, former Officer Daniel Bartini was arrested by state police on the Massachusetts Turnpike. A month later, he resigned from the force.

Three years earlier, Sheffield Police stopped his vehicle and said he appeared inebriated. Officers summoned a ride home for him without administering a sobriety test.

Delayed and denied

Speculation about the details of Finnerty's arrest ran wild on social media, prompting The Eagle to ask for public documents. But, those formal requests went unanswered; the arrest report ultimately was obtained from Northern Berkshire District Court.

State police said the coronavirus pandemic delayed their response to the The Eagle's April 21 public records request for the incident report about Finnerty's arrest, according to an email Friday from the agency. Under state law, requests require a response or production of the records in 10 working days from the date it is made.

And at the 10-day mark, Great Barrington town officials denied the request for the incident report. They were advised by the town's attorney that this police record can be withheld under an exemption that protects privacy through Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI).

But, Jeffrey Pyle, a media and First Amendment lawyer with Prince Lobel Tye LLP, said this privacy exemption hadn't been triggered yet.

"The CORI statute only kicks in, if at all, after a criminal case proceeds past arraignment," Pyle said. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled in March that information from incident reports are not necessarily exempt based on CORI, and that the public's right to know outweighs these privacy concerns, particularly for public servants.

That ruling came after Boston Globe Media Partners LLC in 2015 sued various law enforcement agencies, including the state police, for denying reporters' requests for incident reports and booking photos of police officers accused of drunken driving.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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