Updated June 10 at 4:20 pm
Jordan Baptiste has resigned as Steamship Authority port captain, a position he assumed in April, after being charged with operating under the influence of alcohol by Tisbury Police.
According to a police report, Baptiste was allegedly seen crossing yellow lines and driving erratically during a drive from Oak Bluffs to Vineyard Haven on May 27. A preliminary breath test registered .222, nearly three times the legal limit of .08, though he refused a Breathalyzer at the State Police barracks and his license was suspended, court records indicate.
Baptiste was stopped at the intersection of Martin Road and West William Street after allegedly failing to stop at a stop sign. When the officer approached, Baptiste responded with “a blank stare,” the report states.
Baptiste told the arresting officer he had “three beers.” Baptiste was “slow and deliberate” getting out of the vehicle, and lost his balance during field sobriety tests, according to the report. When he was asked to count backward from 47 and stop at 17, “Mr. Baptiste responded with a blank stare, then stated, ‘Why does it have to be 47?’” the report states.
On May 28 in Edgartown District Court, Baptiste pleaded not guilty to charges of operating under the influence of alcohol, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, failure to stop or yield, and a marked lanes violation. He was released on $200 cash bail. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for June 20.
Reached by phone Monday, Baptiste declined to comment on the charges until he had a chance to speak with his attorney, Robb Moriarty. Later, Baptiste issued the following statement: “Although there have been many great accomplishments I’ve achieved thus far in life, I’ve undoubtedly made some mistakes along the way. Not every decision I’ve made in life has been great — but the experiences I continue to learn from will help guide me to become the person I want to be — and for that I am grateful,” he wrote. “Those who know me understand that my character, integrity, and professionalism are extremely important to me — this is obviously not the way I wanted things to turn out. I have worked extremely hard, and was excited to help bring positive change to the SSA — I am truly sorry to those I have disappointed. I firmly believe that character and perseverance is defined not by how many times you fall, but by what you do when you get back up. Fortunately, I am blessed by the love and support of my family, friends, and community members alike. My sole focus now will be to pick myself up, learn from this experience, and move forward to support my family to the fullest of my potential. Martha’s Vineyard will always be home to me — and I still look forward to sharing that feeling of Vineyard pride and unity with my children for years to come.”
Moriarty declined to comment, citing the pending charges.
“Capt. Baptiste resigned his position from the Steamship Authority effective May 31, 2019,” Steamship Authority spokesman Sean Driscoll wrote Sunday in an email responding to an inquiry by The Times into Baptiste’s status.
Driscoll pointed to a May 27 incident, but neither wrote precisely what that incident entailed, nor wrote that the incident triggered the resignation.
“The Steamship Authority is aware of the incident involving Capt. Jordan Baptiste that occurred on May 27, 2019,” he wrote. “We cannot comment on Capt. Baptiste’s personnel information specifically; however, in general, we can say that, prior to hiring an employee, the Steamship Authority performs a background check through ADP, a nationally renowned human resources firm. In addition, holders of a master mariner credential must consent to a check of their National Driver Registry record for driving under the influence (DUI) or reckless driving convictions by the U.S. Coast Guard prior to the credential being issued or renewed.”
Marc Hanover, the Island’s representative to the SSA board, declined to comment on Baptiste’s arrest or his resignation because it is a personnel matter, but said SSA management handled the issue well.
“I’m really disappointed that this event happened,” Hanover said. “I was happy to have an Island kid in management — someone who understands what happens to Islanders when the boat cancels.”
Baptiste, 37, is a 2000 graduate of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, and a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard. In a prepared statement released at the time of his hire, Baptiste said he was “extremely excited for the opportunity to be joining the SSA.” Prior to taking the job, he lived in Clearwater, Fla., with his family.
According to records available online through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, this is not the first time Baptiste has been charged with OUI. In 2011, he was arrested in Florida for operating under the influence. The disposition in that case is listed as “nolle prosequi,” which is a Latin phrase meaning “will no longer prosecute.” Baptiste was arrested in 2010 and charged with felony domestic battery by strangulation in Florida. That charge was ultimately dropped, the records indicate.
Though he wouldn’t comment on the pending charges, Baptiste sought to clarify what happened in Florida. On the OUI charge, he said, he passed a field sobriety test, it was on tape, and the prosecution ultimately decided not to proceed for lack of evidence. He said it was part of a crackdown by police on drunk driving. “The prosecution offered a deal, my lawyer advised me not to take it. He said, ‘Look, you passed field sobriety. They don’t have a case to stand on. I don’t recommend a deal,’” Baptiste said. “The judge and prosecution agreed they didn’t have enough evidence. They jumped the gun on this one. I was, in fact, not operating under the influence.”
In the domestic battery case, Baptiste said it was a misunderstanding that haunts him. He had just moved to Florida and got into an argument at a bar with his then-girlfriend. Someone thought they saw it get physical and called police, he said.
“It’s upsetting because it’s obviously a charge that comes back to haunt me any time someone does a Google search and sees a felony charge,” Baptiste said. “It was my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife. We’re happily married.”
She went to court the morning after the arrest and told the judge it was a misunderstanding and there was no physical altercation. “Either way, the way I look at it, innocent until proven guilty doesn’t hold true in the public eye,” he said, noting they still show up as arrests and he’s judged by that.
With the position now vacant, the SSA is seeking new candidates, Driscoll wrote.
Updated with a statement from Baptiste after breaking the story June 9. George Brennan contributed to this report.