Editor’s note: New Bedford City Councilor Hugh Dunn is an elected official at the center of a public controversy, which he discussed loudly and at length, in a public place. New Bedford Light reporter Will Sennott was among those who witnessed Dunn’s comments. What follows is Sennott’s first-hand account.
NEW BEDFORD — On Thursday, Aug. 19, as Tropical Storm Henri charged up the East Coast, City Councilor Hugh Dunn stood in the dim light of The Pour Farm Tavern patio downtown.
He held a leashed dog in one hand, his dark blue trench coat rippling lightly in Henri’s gathering winds.
“Expecting rain?” asked a member of the small group standing outside the bar.
“Sure feels like it,” Dunn responded.
Dunn, the Ward 3 city councilor, is awaiting a clerk magistrate hearing on charges related to drunken driving in an accident that took place in the early morning hours of May 1.
Councilor Dunn has been conspicuously quiet since that night. He has not commented publicly on the incident. The once-vocal politician, known for his strong support of the police union, has become a quiet square in Zoom City Council meetings, muted more often than not.
But in the low chatter of the tavern, he found plenty to say.
He stood quietly at first with one foot inside the ring of tables that separates the bar from the surrounding park area. His eyes drifted from the row of tables, to the dog at his feet, to some vague point in the distance. He was not drinking.
Dunn’s solitude was pierced when a man stepped into the patio area. He said he hadn’t seen Dunn since “the incident … if you want to call it that.”
He asked to hear the city councilor’s own take on the controversy that has surrounded him for the last four months. Dunn deflected the conversation, at first, shuffling on his feet and sheepishly turning his head.
He then asked for one of the man’s menthol cigarettes. “I’ll talk about it,” he said, leaning in.
The mix of hushed whispers and expletive laden outbursts lasted well over an hour, through last call. It caught the attention of more than a few in the patio area of The Pour Farm Tavern — including this reporter for The New Bedford Light, standing, unintentionally, well within earshot.
“They don’t have shit,” Dunn said, loud enough for patrons at the neighboring table to take notice, glancing up from their drinks. “They aren’t going to do shit because the cops aren’t going to say shit,” he added.
The conversation continued, focusing on how he expected nothing to come from the charges filed against him, the investigation and the upcoming clerk magistrate hearing.
In May, the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office asked State Police to investigate the accident separate from 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.
The New Bedford police report noted that officers “at no time” detected the odor of alcohol on Dunn’s breath or body after he crashed his car into two parked cars while leaving a downtown restaurant at 1:30 in the morning.
The police report conflicts with that of a city paramedic, which noted the smell of alcohol as “obvious” on Dunn — according to the State Police report obtained by The Standard-Times.
The New Bedford police officers are reportedly facing disciplinary action for failing to give Councilor Dunn a sobriety test.
“They have nothing on me,” Dunn continued, to the man at Pour Farm.
The two discussed video footage from the bar that Dunn left the night of the accident, and uncertainty whether the bar released the video recordings to the district attorney’s office or State Police for its investigation. Dunn said the video would have shown him drinking that night.
“I’m allowed to drink,” Dunn said, raising his hands in a gesture of innocence. “That’s not the problem.”
Dunn was mostly dismissive of the charges filed against him. He cited it as “all politics,” and a “hit job,” though he didn’t expound on what that meant. He said the DA was “coming after me” and “trying to prove something.”
The terms he used were vague, and often circled back to the same refrain — “It’s all bullshit,” he said more than once, receiving nods from the other. “They don’t have shit.”
Dunn declined on Wednesday when asked to elaborate on his comments.
The conversation at Pour Farm continued through last call. The man went inside to pay his tab, leaving Dunn with words of reassurance. Dunn nodded in agreement.
“I’ll get through it,” Dunn said. He turned and took two long strides, his unseasonably long and heavy overcoat turning with him. He stopped, and held up a hand to the night, as if expecting rain.
Email Will Sennott at firstname.lastname@example.org
State police say an EMT and paramedic on the scene the night of the accidents described it as “obvious” that he had been drinking and that they smelled alcohol on his breath.
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