Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings announced Tuesday that the Division of Civil Rights & Public Trust (DCRPT) has reached a pre-indictment plea agreement with a former Dover police officer who experienced an opioid overdose in his patrol vehicle and later tested positive for fentanyl and marijuana.
“This should remind us that the addiction epidemic affects everyone,” said Attorney General Jennings. “The defendant’s conduct was obviously illegal, totally incompatible with the standards we should hold law enforcement to, and could easily have turned deadly for him or someone else – he is frankly fortunate that his fellow officers found him in time to save his life. At the same time, justice in these situations requires both accountability and compassion. The defendant’s struggle with substance abuse is a familiar story for thousands of Delawareans, and just like anyone else he has our empathy in his journey to recovery. This sentence allows him to get the help he needs while permanently separating him from a position of public trust because he can no longer be trusted.”
“When viewed through a human lens, the Dover Police Department has empathy for anyone battling the challenges associated with drug abuse and connections to treatment services were offered to our employee,” said Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson Jr. “However; when viewed through a professional lens, this kind of behavior can never be tolerated. Not for a minute. A trust was violated. In addition to the risks to his own life, he took chances with the safety of his co-workers and members of the public that were not his to take. Through appropriate investigation, this unprofessional conduct was determined to be criminal in nature.
“Once the facts were established, it became clear that Mr. Vieira could no longer be a Police Officer. The responsibilities of the job are just too serious and the public deserves the best resources that we can provide. We have already begun to examine the factors that lead up to the overdose emergency and will evaluate them against our existing code of conduct policies and early detection mechanisms. Appropriate changes to policy and/or practice will be made at the earliest possible time.”
On November 26, 2021, officers from the Dover Police Department located Pfc. Steven Vieira, 30, near Schutte Park after dispatch repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to reach him. Responding officers found Vieira unconscious in his patrol vehicle and showing signs of overdose.
After administering first aid and two doses of Narcan, officers escorted Vieira to Bayhealth Hospital. Upon initial belief that Vieira had experienced an accidental fentanyl exposure during his duties, Dover PD conducted a search of his vehicle and uncovered an eyeglass case containing what was determined to be oxycodone hydrochloride, a prescription opioid, and various drug paraphernalia. A subsequent blood test revealed fentanyl and cannabinoid in Vieira’s system.
Vieira pleaded guilty to Driving Under the Influence of Drugs and Official Misconduct, both Class A Misdemeanors, and was sentenced to a 12-month prison sentence suspended to 12 months Level II probation, with his probation dischargeable following drug counseling.
As part of his plea, Vieira has resigned from the Dover Police Department and surrendered all Council on Police Training (COPT) certifications, rendering him permanently ineligible for employment as a police officer. Dover PD placed Vieira on administrative leave pending its own internal investigation, notified the Department of Justice, and cooperated fully with DCRPT’s investigation. Deputy Attorneys General Mark Denney represented the State in this matter, following a DCRPT investigation led by DOJ Investigator Tim Argoe.