On February 15th at about 4:45 pm, William Gusler called 911 to report a white pickup truck with temporary tags driving erratically on Park Street in Apopka before pulling into a Circle-K convenient store. About five weeks later, he wrote a narrative of his experiences that day which was published in the March 25th edition of The Apopka Chief as a "Special to the Chief" column, and later re-posted from his Facebook page by two popular Apopka Facebook sites – The Apopka Critic and Apopka Community Facts Uncensored.
His article stirred-up a lively discussion on social media, which surprised Gusler.
“I had no idea it would take off like this,” he said. I didn’t expect this response. I was surprised when The Apopka Chief published it, but they did. I have accomplished my goal. The story is out there.”
In his account, Gusler describes a driver recklessly driving in Apopka. He writes:
“Driving northbound on Park Ave on my way to the post office a few weeks back around 4:30 PM on a Monday afternoon, I noticed a pickup swerving in front of me. The time and day are relevant to the story. Keeping my distance, I observed the vehicle drive onto the curb/ sidewalk in front of Apopka Middle school and then return to the roadway and force another vehicle into the center lane. I called 911 and relayed what I saw to the dispatcher while following the pickup.”
The 911 call was confirmed by the APD, and officers did respond to Gusler’s call. The facts from that point differ between Gusler’s account and the APD however.
Gusler continues in his column:
“The driver was obviously impaired for whatever reason and continued to drive erratically. Multiple trips into other lanes and on to the curb and driving half on the sidewalks, the pickup stopped at the Dollar Store on Park and entered the building. An Apopka police officer arrived and I pointed out the vehicle, explained the situation and the officer parked and waited for the driver to exit the store. When the driver attempted to leave, the officer blocked him in. A second Officer arrived and began administering the field sobriety test. The driver was barely able to walk, much less pass any test. After failing miserably, he was allowed to return to his vehicle and make a phone call. At this point after living in Apopka for over 20 years, I knew the way this was going. Let me preface the next part of the story by stating this is in no way a condemnation of the Officers involved or the APD. They were polite, professional doing what they were instructed to do. The problem is higher up the ladder.”
APD Chief of Police Michael McKinley is the highest rung of the ladder in Apopka. He denies the accusation that an APD officer would allow anyone driving drunk to go free.
“The Apopka Police Department is diligent in enforcing state DUI laws as evidenced by our involvement in multi-jurisdictional DUI patrols (as recently reported by The Apopka Voice). This case is not indicative of our stand on driving under the influence, nor driving without a license. It is our mission to uniformly and fairly enforce all laws, which is reinforced throughout the agency. We fully understand the impact these activities can have in our community, and that importance has been conveyed throughout the department as we move forward. We encourage all residents to contact the police department if they see suspicious activity, and that police supervisors, as well as I, the police chief, are always available to address any concerns or questions about officers’ performance of their duties.”
But Gusler contends this might be even bigger than Apopka. In his column he writes:
“In a sane world, one would assume that the driver would be off to jail and charged with DUI. Not the case here. He went back to his vehicle and called his wife to pick him up. The officer relayed to me that the driver was an illegal and that they had allowed him to call his wife as there was nothing they can do. If they take him to jail, he will bail out and simply acquire a new fake ID and change addresses and never stand trial. Or will have a lawyer claim he didn't understand English and was not properly made aware of his rights while being arrested. As far as being illegal and having a false ID, INS would instruct the APD to release him if taken into custody.”
Chief McKinley also denies this had anything to do with ethnicity or the driver’s legal or illegal status in the United States.
“APD Officers have the discretion to arrest or not arrest,” he said. “But it has nothing to do with their immigration status."
Gusler maintains his account of the incident, and points out he has no motive to fabricate his column.
"I don't care if there are 10 million illegals in Apopka. I do have a problem if they are breaking the law. I do care about selective enforcement."
Captain Randall Fernandez of The APD points out that there isn't selective enforcement, and that a person's ethnicity is not a factor in determining the best practices of an APD Officer.
"We aggressively enforce DUI laws, and we treat everyone equally. Are there best practices that our officers follow? Absolutely. But officers also have discretion in arresting situations. We do not give absolutes. There are a lot of factors that go into an arrest."