AURORA — A police officer charged with brandishing a pistol in an alleged road rage incident in Florida was fired from the Aurora department in 2006 following an off-duty road rage incident. He was reinstated, but continued to be reprimanded for various violations, including poor behavior toward citizens during traffic stops.
Officer Joseph LaPerna, 48, has been placed on unpaid administrative leave pending the outcome of his case in Florida, Aurora Police Chief Brian Byard said.
“Once officer LaPerna’s Florida case has been adjudicated, the City of Aurora will make a determination on the appropriate course of action regarding Joe LaPerna and his status as it relates to the Aurora Police Department,” Byard wrote in a release Monday.
A phone number or attorney for LaPerna could not be found.
LaPerna was released on bond Monday after his arrest Saturday around 10:45 a.m. by Florida Highway Patrol troopers and Collier County deputies. Florida police were responding to a reported incident of “highway violence” on Interstate 75 heading south toward Naples, Fla., according to a press release from the Florida patrol.
The patrol said LaPerna and the occupants of a Toyota “became involved in a road rage incident,” during which LaPerna was accused of brandishing a Glock 43 pistol at the occupants of the Toyota.
He was arrested after exiting the highway near Park Shore Resort in Naples on charges of aggravated assault and improper exhibit of a firearm and taken to the Lee County Jail.
Byard said LaPerna had been in Florida looking for work, but not because he was under threat of termination in Aurora, even though Byard said LaPerna has one of the worst disciplinary records in the department.
Having been with the Aurora Police Department since Nov. 1, 1995, LaPerna could be eligible for a 25-year retirement in November, Byard said.
LaPerna was fired from his job in 2006 after an off-duty road rage incident.
“The union (OPBA) fought the termination and officer LaPerna was reinstated after an arbitrator granted LaPerna his job back, which did not include back pay or benefits for his time off,” Byard said. “As a conditional requirement of his return to work officer LaPerna was required to undergo a fitness for duty examination and counseling for anger management and placed on a one-year ‘last chance agreement.’”
After his reinstatement, LaPerna was written up between 2007 and 2014 for violations including improper conduct, leaving his firearm unsecured, insubordination, failure to follow a direct order, and unauthorized access to a dispatch work station.
In 2015, he was issued a written reprimand for unsafe speeds and unsafe acts during a vehicle pursuit, then a counseling letter for unsafe driving, followed by a suspension for unsafe driving in 2016. He was disciplined for sick leave abuse in both 2016 and 2017.
LaPerna was also disciplined in 2013 and 2014 for “unprofessional,” and “disrespectful and discourteous” behavior toward motorists during traffic stops. A 2015 complaint could not be corroborated because his body mic was disabled, according to Byard.
In another incident, LaPerna was disciplined and required to forfeit holiday pay “as a result of poor decision making involving a traffic stop with an elderly resident.”
Following a 2017 complaint of “rude and discourteous behavior” toward a resident, LaPerna was sent home for the day and required to complete several classes which were “Professional Policing and the Public,” “Positive Ways to be Successful,” “Overall Job Preparedness,” Procedural Justice and Police Legitimacy” and “Blue Courage.”
He has been recognized twice by Mothers against Drunk Drivers for his efforts, and has received four thank-you letters from citizens, Byard said.
Byard said that none of the infractions LaPerna was disciplined for over the years rose to the level of a terminable offense, other than the 2006 road rage incident. He said the most recent time the 34-member department terminated a police officer was in 2015, when a female officer was fired for multiple infractions.
Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or firstname.lastname@example.org.