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Hartford Police chief apologizes for ‘distracted driving’ investigated by CSP following conflicting reports

Hartford

HADDAM/CHESTER, Conn. (WTNH) — On May 31, a 911 caller told police he was following a “drunk driver” who had crashed into a guardrail in Haddam. That call set off a chain reaction, which included conflicting reports of a single-car crash by Hartford Chief of Police, Jason Thody.

According to Connecticut State Police, just before 5 p.m. that day, a caller reported he was driving northbound on Route 154 behind what appeared to be a drunk driver. The man described the vehicle as a black Chevy Tahoe and that he believed it was a law enforcement vehicle.

The caller went on to say the Tahoe had crashed into a guardrail, and that he was driving at a high rate of speed. He said he was driving 60 mph himself but couldn’t keep up with the SUV. “He’s going like a bat out of hell.”

During the call, the man reporting what he thought was a drunk driver was transferred several times to different dispatch departments and information was lost in transfers. Connecticut State Police (CSP) reportedly did a sweep of Route 154 from Chester to Middletown around 5:50 p.m. and did not find the vehicle.

On June 25, CSP began an investigation into what it called an alleged failure to respond to the incident by “an unknown member of Troop F.”

As part of that investigation, Assistant Chief of Hartford Police Rafael Medina told CSP that he was aware of the incident involving Chief Thody and had conducted an investigation in the days after. Medina’s investigation confirmed the crash — it also confirmed that Thody did not call CSP to report it at the time it happened.

Chief Thody also spoke with CSP during the investigation, telling the investigator that his phone had slipped into the passenger’s seat, adding that he collided with the guardrail when leaned over to retrieve it.

Thody also told CSP he did not call them at the time of the incident because there was no damage to the guardrail. He also said the protest situation in the city was escalating so it was more of a priority than waiting for a trooper to arrive.

The CSP investigation corroborates that troopers in the area were dealing with road closures and other calls relating to ongoing protests at the time.

Hartford Police Department’s report of the incident states the chief did report the incident to his direct-report, Chief Operating Officer, Thea Montanez.

According to that same report, Thody informed Hartford PD Chief of Staff, Lt. Brian Bowsza, to document the damage to his vehicle, per policy and procedure. Bowsza filed a report following that documentation.

Hartford PD’s report also concluded that there was a miscommunication in the original report of the crash, and that Bowsza’s report was filed before the information was gathered from Chief Thody that he had not contacted CSP at the time of the incident.

Following the CSP investigation into the incident, State’s Attorney Michael Gailor recommended sending the matter to the City of Hartford and letting them deal with it administratively.

CSP released the 911 call of the incident on Tuesday in what it called the “interest of transparency.”

Following the release of that call, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin released the following statement:

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. 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.

Statement from Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin

In a statement regarding the incident, Chief Thody said, “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.”

He went on to say:

“…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.

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.

Read the full police report:

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