By Lynn Safranek
Stress management: The good, the bad and the healthy
OMAHA, Neb. — Some people honk their car horns or make rude gestures when they disrespectfully disagree with another person's driving methods.
A 53-year-old Omaha man recently lost his job as an Omaha police officer after he was accused of taking his road rage another step — waving a gun at a man and his pregnant wife in traffic.
Gerald DeWitt denies he was driving his Honda Pilot — identified through its prestige license plates — at the time the road-rage incident occurred on July 17.
However, an internal police investigation determined that DeWitt was the driver and that he lied during his interview with internal affairs about his involvement in the incident.
DeWitt, a 17-year police veteran, was fired in December. The city's human resources board upheld the decision last month.
DeWitt's wife, Catherine, declined to comment on his behalf.
In 1995, DeWitt was awarded the Medal of Valor for risking his life in a rescue attempt in Carter Lake, where two boys had fallen through the ice.
But since December 2005, he had received two three-day suspensions and a reprimand.
After being fired, DeWitt appealed the termination to the human resources board.
Police reports, transcripts of internal affairs interviews and other exhibits submitted during DeWitt's human resources board hearing show that Omaha police pursued the investigation at the strong urging of the couple involved — who had no idea at the time that the man in the other vehicle was an off-duty police officer.
The couple, who declined to be interviewed, called 911 on July 17 while they were driving near 42nd and Center Streets. The following is from a transcript of the call:
911: Hello, 911, what's your emergency? Hello, cell phone, this is 911.
Male caller: (Unclear) behind a guy on 42nd Center and he was kinda playing games in traffic and he pointed, he just pulled out a gun.
911: OK, can you give me a description of the car? What color is it?
Male caller: Yeah, yeah, it's kind of a grayish blue. It's a Honda Pilot and the, the plates say BADGR, B, A, D, G, R.
The dispatcher broadcast the license plate number and SUV's description to officers in the area, and warned that the reckless driver possibly was armed with a handgun.
When the caller contacted 911 again later to check what had happened, an operator said patrol officers didn't find the Honda Pilot.
Male caller: Well . . . this guy is obviously, still, you know, keeps carrying a gun in his car and point it out at people, so, um, yeah, you know (what) I mean.
The operator transferred the man's call to the Police Department's telephone response unit for him to make an official report.
A few days later, Omaha police investigators needed only to run the license plate through their computer system to discover that the vehicle belonged to one of their own officers.
Detectives arranged a photo array to present to the couple using photos of six older white men with close-cropped haircuts.
The woman picked DeWitt out of the photo lineup with 60 percent certainty. Her husband, who didn't get a good look at the driver, couldn't identify anyone.
Because the couple couldn't confidently identify the driver, no criminal charges were filed against DeWitt.
DeWitt was interviewed by a sergeant in internal affairs. The sergeant asked DeWitt time after time if he had lent anyone his Honda Pilot on July 17.
DeWitt said his brother and son-in-law sometimes borrowed the SUV, but he couldn't remember if anyone had used it on that particular date.
He also said he couldn't remember what he was doing on July 17 — if he was with his daughter, watching his grandchildren, taking care of his mother or appearing in court — but he knew he wasn't driving at 42nd and Center Streets.
"If you weren't there, if you weren't driving your vehicle that's registered to you, then who was?" the sergeant asked DeWitt.
"I'm not sure," he replied.
Copyright 2007 Omaha World - Herald
Road incident costs Neb. officer his job