Hartford to Address Internally a Single-Car Accident Involving City's Police Chief

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Hartford's mayor said the city will handle any potential discipline for the police chief after he was involved in a single-car accident in his department-issued vehicle on the highway in Chester in May, according to a statement from the mayor's office.

A report from the City of Hartford said Police Chief Jason Thody was driving his department-issued vehicle on Route 154 in Chester on May 31, when he was involved in a single-vehicle accident scraping against a guardrail,​ according to the summary of an investigative report sent by Hartford Police Assistant Chief Rafael Medina to Hartford Police Chief Operating Officer Thea Montanez.

A state police report released Tuesday revealed a 911 caller called Connecticut State Police to report the scrape of the chief's car but a trooper was unable to find the chief, who had continued on to Hartford.

“There’s a law enforcement agency guy in front of me who’s intoxicated he hit the guard rail on 154," the caller can be heard saying on 911 recordings.

"I watched him bounce off the guardrail at about 60 miles an hour," the caller said.

The caller described the car to dispatch.

“Significant damage to the passenger side of that black Tahoe that's all decked out with flashing lights and a GPS on top of it," the caller said.

The Middlesex State's Attorney, Michael Gailor, emailed State Police Colonel Stavros Mellekas on July 2 declining further action from his office.

"Colonel - Based on my review of the information provided I would recommend sending this matter to the city of Hartford so that they can deal with it administratively," the email said.

Hartford's mayor said the city will make a decision on any discipline once the Internal Audit Commission completes its investigation.

“The 911 call confirms the basic facts that Chief Thody reported about this incident, which are that at approximately 4:50 PM on Sunday, May 31, Chief Thody was driving distractedly while conducting city business on his phone, veered and scraped against a guard rail, and continued on, as he was responding to an ongoing protest in Hartford,” Bronin said in a statement.  “We will wait for any findings from the Internal Audit Commission, but at this point my assessment remains that this was a minor incident that Chief Thody documented and reported to the city’s Chief Operating Officer that same day.”

“He was driving distractedly driving erratically which he fully acknowledges which is not OK. But he was conducting city business with his cell phone scraped a guardrail and continued on," Bronin added in an interview with NBC Connecticut. "This incident itself does not cause me to lose confidence in our police chief as our police chief.”

Thody said he was at his marina in Chester while a Black Lives Matter protest was forming in front of Hartford Police Headquarters, the report stated.

Thody had been monitoring the situation by phone until he decided to drive to Hartford as protests were escalating across the state and were continuing in Hartford, city officials added in the report.

Thody told Medina he was on the phone with Lieutenant Luis Ruiz for an update on the protests around 4:45 p.m. when he left the marina to head to Hartford. Thody said he hung up with Ruiz and placed his phone on the center console of his vehicle when it slid onto the passenger seat, the report stated. 

When he reached over to get the phone, Thody said he momentarily took his eyes off of the road, according to the report. 

In the report, Medina said Thody told him that as he leaned toward the passenger seat of the vehicle to get his phone, he briefly crossed the right shoulder of the highway and the passenger side of his vehicle made contact with a guardrail that runs along the east side of Route 154.

According the report, Thody said his vehicle sustained minor cosmetic damage and was fully operational and he was not hurt in the accident.

Thody reported to Medina that the guardrail did not have any damage, but did have paint transfer, city officials said.

"Chief Thody stated he did not report the incident to Connecticut State Police because there was no damage to the guardrail, minor damage to his vehicle, and that the situation in Hartford was priority over waiting for a trooper to arrive, especially given the fact that he was aware that the State Police were blocking highways due to protests across the state," according to the city report.

In the report, Medina wrote, "Chief Thody stated that, in his judgement, the assessed damage did not meet the $1,000.00 threshold for an accident report to begin with."

Thody notified his direct supervisor, Chief Operating Officer Thea Montanez, of the accident, took photographs of the guardrail and the damage to the vehicle and continued back to Hartford to respond to the protests, the city's report stated.

Thody also said he notified Chief of Staff Brian Bowsza to prepare paperwork to document the damage and to have the vehicle repaired, city officials added in the report.

Information about the incident is being sent to Montanez and the Accident Review Board to decide what next steps, if any, should be taken, the city said.

City council member Josh Michtom was critical of the situation.

“All of it felt like the opposite of transparency to me," he told NBC Connecticut.

“The police chief is the one who is supposed to investigate allegations of misconduct by other officers. If this is how he rolls when he gets in a minor accident, or what I thought was a minor accident, I just don’t have confidence in him to do what he has to do to hold the rest of the police force accountable," he added.

Connecticut State Police released a statement on Friday about the crash and said there had been differing information about if Thody had reported the accident to them.

"The Connecticut State Police were made aware of a Hartford Police Report that stated CSP were notified of a May 31st motor vehicle accident involving the Hartford Police Chief. The report stated CSP was immediately notified but declined to respond and declined to provide a case number. A second report was given to us today by HPD that said the first report was an error, and CSP was not notified of the accident," Assistant to the Commissioner at the Dept. of Emergency Service and Public Protection Brian Foley said in part in a statement.

"A review of our records show the Police Chief had not reported the accident to the CT State Police," Foley added.

The Hartford city investigative report from Medina said the reason for the confusion in the initial police report over whether there had been contact to the state police was due to a miscommunication.

"Chief Thody did not contact the Connecticut State Police for a response to this incident as outlined in his report," the city's investigative report found.

Chief Thody provided the following statement to NBC Connecticut:

“While I don’t regret prioritizing my swift return to Hartford in response to the protests that day, I very much regret allowing myself to become distracted and not driving more carefully,” said Chief Thody.  “And while there was no damage to any state property, I also regret not calling the State Police that day to notify them of the incident. I had returned to work the day before this incident for large protests that came to the public safety complex and closed roads, and I spent a large part of Sunday the 31st planning for protests that were scheduled for Monday, June 1st. I was on the phone regularly throughout the day with staff and community members and I wanted to ensure that the peaceful protests in Hartford did not escalate the way they did in other cities, where other departments ended up using pepper spray and making many arrests. I made the proper notification to my supervisor that same day, documented the damage for city purposes, and asked my staff to complete the necessary departmental paperwork.”

“My focus on that day, and the stressful days that followed, 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,” continued Chief Thody. “I take full responsibility for my decisions, and I will accept whatever discipline the Mayor deems appropriate.  I am proud of our track record as a Department through all of the challenges we have confronted recently, and I attribute that to everyone’s dedication, professionalism, and commitment to our community. I am sorry that this incident has taken the spotlight away from the good work our officers do day in and day out in some of the most difficult and stressful times in the history of our profession.”

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