NEW BEDFORD — Three city police officers have been suspended without pay following an internal investigation that determined they failed to properly investigate City Councilor Hugh Dunn after his early morning May 1 car crash, according to the report obtained by The Standard-Times.
Dunn, the Ward 3 city councilor, is awaiting a clerk magistrate hearing on charges related to drunken driving after his vehicle struck two parked cars in the downtown area.
The Bristol County District Attorney’s Office assigned State Police to investigate the incident separate from the New Bedford Police, who failed to conduct a standard field sobriety test on Dunn after the accident. In June, the district attorney’s office filed an application for criminal charges against Dunn, which included: driving while under the influence, leaving the scene of property damage and negligent operation of a vehicle.
“All three officers are seasoned officers and this accident happened just around closing time (Bars Closing) in the downtown district,” one investigator reportedly wrote. “Troublesome to me is the fact that not one of the three officers considered the fact that this male may have possibly been drinking in an establishment in the downtown area and that alcohol may have been a factor in this accident.”
The 140-page internal investigation from the New Bedford Police was reported by The Standard-Times on Thursday, just hours after The New Bedford Light published a story that quoted Councilor Dunn loudly discussing the incident, the police and how he expected nothing to come from the charges filed against him — in his first public statement on the car accident since it occurred.
Councilor Dunn was mostly dismissive of the charges filed against him. He cited it as “all politics,” and a “hit job.” He said the DA was “coming after me” and “trying to prove something.”
The responding officers, Abraham Nazario, Jesse Branagan and Algimantas Harrell, each of whom have been with the department for at least eight years, are receiving between three and 20 days of suspension without pay.
According to the report, the New Bedford Police officers on scene of the accident violated standards of conduct. Investigators concluded the officers did not ask Dunn if he had consumed alcohol and did not go to the hospital, where Dunn was transported after the accident.
A previous State Police report noted that EMTs said the smell of alcohol was “obvious” on Dunn, though the New Bedford police report noted that officers “at no time” detected the odor of alcohol on Dunn’s breath or body.
“There is no legitimate reason why the very basic investigative questions were not asked by three trained police officers on scene,” one of the investigators reportedly wrote. “Furthermore, the primary officer failed to proceed to St. Luke’s Hospital in order to retrieve an actual statement from the city council member.”
Councilor Dunn was the subject of much media attention on Thursday. Barry Richards of WBSM spent much of his three-hour slot discussing both the conversation overheard on Councilor Dunn, published by the New Bedford Light, and the news of the officers receiving suspensions, published by The Standard-Times, each on Thursday.
“It gives the city a bad name when we elect people like that,” said one listener who called in about Dunn, adding that he was frustrated the city councilor is still running unopposed.
The internal investigation was conducted by the New Bedford Police Department’s Division of Professional Standards. Police Chief Paul Oliveira issued a statement to The Standard-Times, stating that the internal investigation is now concluded and the department is looking to move forward.
“I am disappointed that the failure to properly investigate the accident or charge the operator involved with any violation has, in part, diminished the public’s trust in our department,” Police Chief Paul Oliveira said in a written statement. “With the conclusion of this matter, I am hopeful that we can move forward and refocus on the positive work our officers do around the clock to serve and protect the public’s safety.”
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