xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Witness to Hartford police chief’s incident in city-owned SUV reported the vehicle was ‘all over the road,' according to 911 call

Scrapes on the wheelwell of Hartford Police Chief Jason Thody's city-owned Chevrolet SUV after a minor accident in Chester.
Scrapes on the wheelwell of Hartford Police Chief Jason Thody's city-owned Chevrolet SUV after a minor accident in Chester. (Courtesy of City of Hartford)

A man who said he witnessed Hartford Police Chief Jason Thody graze a guardrail while driving his city-issued SUV in May told emergency dispatchers in a 911 call the vehicle was speeding and veering “all over the road.”

The man said he thought it was a law enforcement vehicle that was “flying” along Route 154 late in the afternoon of May 31 near Haddam, according to a 911 call released by state police Tuesday. He was transferred to four dispatchers in about four minutes, telling each that he thought the driver was intoxicated.

Advertisement

“There’s a law enforcement agency guy in front of me who’s intoxicated. He hit the guardrail on 154,” the man said when the first dispatcher picked up. About two minutes later, he was struggling to follow the Tahoe.

“He’s going like a bat out of hell,” the man said. “I mean I’m going 60 and I can’t keep up with him.”

Advertisement

Listen to the 911 call below:

Thody, who denied being under the influence in his official statement to Hartford police, will not face criminal charges.

The Middlesex State’s Attorney has recommended the state investigation be closed and the matter be referred back to the city for appropriate administrative action, according to state police records released with the call Tuesday.

“I very much regret allowing myself to become distracted and not driving more carefully,” Thody said in a statement released by the Hartford Police Department Tuesday evening. “I also regret not calling the State Police that day to notify them of the incident.‘'

Because of the ongoing protests in the city, Thody said his attention “was admittedly not on the damage to my vehicle, and that resulted in some careless reporting and miscommunications between me and my staff that created unnecessary confusion. I take full responsibility for my decisions, and I will accept whatever discipline the Mayor deems appropriate.‘' 

‘Driving distractedly’

In the Hartford Police Department’s report on the May 31 incident, Thody stated he was headed to Hartford from his marina in Chester. He said he became momentarily distracted reaching for his phone at about 4:50 p.m. while traveling north on Route 154 near the Chester-Haddam line.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the 911 call confirms the basic facts that Thody reported about the incident, and that his assessment remains the same that it was “minor incident.”

“From the standpoint of an observer who sees a car swipe a guardrail, distracted driving and driving under the influence probably look similar,” Bronin said. “But we have no reason whatsoever to believe he was under the influence, and every reason to believe, as he has fully acknowledged, that he was driving distractedly while using his phone to conduct city business.”

However, the 911 call asserts there were other issues aside from Thody grazing the guardrail. The 911 caller also said Thody nearly struck a motorcycle while making a wide right turn onto Route 154 before he scraped the guardrail.

On July 1, state police canvassed the marinas in Chester for video footage of Thody consuming alcohol, but determined there was no video surveillance at the Springfield Marina where Thody and his fiance both have boats, according to the state report. Neither have placed their boats in the water this season, a club officer told the investigator.

Last week, Bronin said he asked Thody whether he’d been under the influence after rumors about the motor vehicle incident surfaced online on June 26.

“There had been, to my knowledge, unsubstantiated and unconfirmed rumors posted on a blog making that allegation, so I called him and said, ‘I need to know, and I need to be sure of the answer to this question,‘” Bronin recalled.

Advertisement

Asked if he specifically asked the chief whether he’d had anything to drink that day, Bronin said he did not.

“I speak with Chief Thody multiple times a day, including early in the morning and late at night, and I have never had a concern that he was anything other than clear-headed,” Bronin said.

The Working Families Party members on Hartford City Council, who have a contentious relationship with the Democratic majority, responded to the release of the tape by calling for Thody’s firing.

“This is the person to whom we turn, at least now, when there’s an allegation of misconduct,” Councilman Joshua Michtom said. “This is the person we trust to sift through the record and find if there’s wrongdoing and act. And he seems to be operating as if the law works differently for him than everybody else.

Next steps for the city

Like all traffic incidents involving a police vehicle, Thody’s incident will go before the department’s Police Vehicle Accident Review Board.

That body meets next on July 13. It includes an individual appointed by the police chief, a patrol lieutenant, the traffic division commander, police academy commander, a police union representative and the police department advocate.

The review board will determine whether the incident is “chargeable” or not. The findings will be provided to Montanez.

The city, however, plans to wait to make a final decision regarding potential discipline until after the Internal Audit Commission has looked into the matter, Bronin said in a statement Tuesday.

The audit commission, an independent panel of three, would determine whether any city policies or procedures were violated.

Chief Auditor Craig Trujillo, who is also independent of Bronin’s administration, will present his preliminary findings to the body at its next meeting on July 15.

Trujillo will make a recommendation and the commission will decide whether to launch a formal investigation.

Another discrepancy

With the release of the state police investigation comes another question about the consistency of Thody’s story.

There are differences in the versions of events Thody reportedly gave to Montanez on May 31 and in the statement he wrote June 16 for Medina’s special investigation.

On June 26, Thody gave a still different account to a state police investigator, according to Lt. Col. Michael Davis’ report.

As Davis writes, Thody stated he struck the guardrail after leaving his home in Chester at about 4:45 p.m.

“Prior to leaving the scene he took photos of the scene and later called the city COO,” the investigator said.

That’s not the same order of events Thody has provided in previous explanations.

According to Montanez, Thody did not immediately take photos of the scene. Instead, he returned there about an hour and a half later, after he’d made a round trip to and from Hartford to confirm the protests were over.

She said Thody called her soon after he’d taken photos of the guardrail and the Tahoe and returned to the house in Haddam.

Thody’s own police report lists those events in a different order, stating he found no damage to the guardrail, decided to continue to Hartford rather than call state police, notified Montanez, took photos of the damage and asked his chief of staff, Bowsza, to document the incident.

In this account, he made no mention of stopping at his Plains Road house.

Advertisement

There have been several other discrepancies in the reporting of the incident.

Advertisement

Thody wrote in his report that he kept driving “until it was safe to stop and check the vehicle for damage.” And he told Montanez that he’d been on his way to his house to get ready for work and made a split second decision to keep driving.

Thody told her there were several factors: there was traffic behind him, no safe place to pull off, and his house was less than two miles away.

However, Thody’s house is actually about 5 miles from the spot where he struck the guardrail.

And while it’s true there was no northbound shoulder to pull over, there were places nearby where a driver could safely pull off from the northbound lane — two gas stations and a small shopping center in the Tylerville section of Haddam, no more than a mile and a half away.

Rather than stop, Thody traveled another three and a half miles past Tylerville to his home.

“Every time we hear the story, it’s yet a little different. So the question is, what are they trying to hide? What are they trying to cover up?” asked Councilwoman Wildaliz Bermudez, who is pushing for Thody’s dismissal. “… And if you can’t have the leadership be transparent, do you think others will be?”

State police fumble call

In investigating Thody’s scrape with a guardrail, state police also reviewed their own agency’s failure to respond to a 911 call.

The man who reported the incident was initially helped by the Glastonbury Dispatch Center because his call bounced off a cell phone tower in that area. While he gave that operator a plate number, AV29315 — which matches Thody’s Tahoe — he forgot it by the time he was transferred to the wrong state police troop, then a fire and EMS answering center and finally the state police who cover Haddam.

After repeating himself to several dispatchers, none of whom had his information from the previous operators, the man became frustrated.

Several times, he accused the dispatchers of trying to cover the tracks of a fellow law enforcement officer, according to the 911 call and state police records.

As the incident report noted on May 31, the called “was very upset because he believes the (vehicle) was law enforcement and stated we were ‘covering’ for each other because he had been transferred 3 times.”

The same report, however, says it was unknown who took the initial call, and therefore had record of the license plate number.

A trooper was dispatched to look for the vehicle, which the caller described as having a GPS system on its roof, police lights on the rear and “heavy damage” along its passenger side. State police say a trooper swept the area, including side streets, but did not find the vehicle.

State police say they began investigating on June 25, after Kevin Brookman, a Hartford blogger, reported on the incident.

Through his website ‘We The People Hartford,’ Kevin Brookman says he was leaked the initial report by Lt. Brian Bowsza, which stated Thody immediately called state police on May 31 and that troopers declined to make a report or respond to the scene.

The next day, Hartford police said that report was made in error, and released their full investigative report in which Thody stated he never called 911 because he knew state police were busy handling a couple of protests and highway shutdowns around the state, and there was no apparent harm to the guardrail.

Assistant Police Chief Rafael Medina III, who conducted the special investigation, concluded the error was due to a “reasonable” miscommunication between Thody and Bowsza. Special investigations are due after 8 days, but Medina requested an extension “due to ongoing protests, demonstrations, and other pressing events,” and Thody approved.

Medina filed his report after 23 days.

While Thody estimated the damage to the Tahoe at less than $1,000, the city has been billed about $3,300 for repairs by Friendly Auto Body & Towing, Inc., the primary shop used by Hartford police.

Rebecca Lurye can be reached at rlurye@courant.com.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement