NEW BEDFORD — A district court judge determined New Bedford City Councilor Hugh Dunn was not guilty of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. After months of delay, Dunn stood trial in district court Tuesday afternoon for the charge, about 17 months after his vehicle struck two parked cars and he tried to leave the scene, according to state police.
The judge ordered a continuance without a finding for the other two charges — leaving the scene of property damage and negligent operation of a motor vehicle — even though the prosecution sought a guilty finding for all three charges. As part of that continuance, Dunn enters probation for one year.
Special prosecutor for the Bristol County District Attorney’s office, Daniel Bennett, told The Light after the verdict was issued that Dunn’s attorney, Timothy Walsh, was “smart” in having his client admit to the other two charges.
He also noted, as did district court Judge Joseph Harrington, that other people who enter the court without a prior history would also likely receive a continuance without a finding on the charges.
“Clearly there’s evidence that the defendant was operating negligently … and I would find beyond a reasonable doubt that he has operated negligently,” the judge told the court, noting the parties entered a tentative plea on that charge. “The same goes for the leaving the scene of an accident … there’s no question whatsoever the commonwealth would have been able to meet its burden on that and would meet its burden on that.”
The judge said based on Dunn’s “lack of” a history and the evidence he heard, that a continuance without a finding would be appropriate.
“I don’t see any reason to treat Mr. Dunn any differently,” he said, noting that’s the outcome for most other cases in the court for people without a record.
“I am troubled, though, however, on the OUI,” Harrington continued. “I have to find beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest level of certainty.”
In his closing argument, Bennett pointed to the receipt from Cork Wine and Tapas, the bar Dunn was drinking at prior to the crash, and video footage from the bar. He asked the judge to use reason to see Dunn likely had more than the drinks listed on the receipt. He also noted the approximately $200 tip left for the bartender for an $80 receipt.
Walsh, however, cast doubt on testimony, stating that while the paramedic who responded to the scene smelled the odor of alcohol on Dunn, none of the responding officers did.
“While I can speculate as to how many drinks you had, and you left a $200 tip on an $80 bar bill, that doesn’t get it over the rail for me,” Harrington said. “You very well may have been operating under the influence, but I have to find beyond a reasonable doubt that you were, and given the conflicting testimony in this case, you’re entitled to the benefit of that doubt.”
Bennett called eight witnesses: a St. Luke’s Hospital nurse, a bartender who served Dunn at Cork Wine and Tapas, a state police detective, the owner of one of the vehicles that was hit, a New Bedford paramedic, a state police crash analyst and two of the New Bedford police officers who responded to the crash.
Massachusetts State Police Lt. Christopher Dumont, who investigated the crash at the direction of the DA’s office, obtained security camera footage from the downtown bar, segments of which were played on a television for the judge. Harrington watched the footage without audio along with Walsh and Dunn, with Bennett requesting Dumont identify Dunn in each video segment.
Bennett also called on a collision analyst with Massachusetts State Police, who testified based on data stored in Dunn’s car that in the five seconds leading up to the event, the car accelerated — going from zero to about 25 miles per hour.
He also testified the car data showed the gas pedal was essentially pressed all the way down in those few seconds of data.
The last two witnesses to be called were two of the three New Bedford police officers who responded to the crash. Arbitration involving all three of the officers, who challenged their suspensions issued by the department, ended in late August.
Walsh brought up this arbitration when cross-examining a New Bedford paramedic who was one of two EMS professionals who responded to Dunn and transported him to St. Luke’s Hospital. Walsh told the medic that he did not tell arbitrators that he smelled an odor of alcohol on Dunn, despite communicating that for the state police investigation on the crash.
The medic told Walsh that he could not recall his testimony from the arbitration case. Walsh, based on the medic’s responses, cast doubt on his credibility as a witness in his closing statements for the OUI charge, arguing the footage from the bar, the drinks receipt and the testimony from witnesses do not meet the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The only other testimony you have is from the paramedic, who I would suggest, given his lack of memory from this arbitration that happened months ago compared to his memory from the incident, I would suggest he’s not credible,” Walsh said.
Walsh stressed neither the officers, nor the bartender, testified to observing any of the common signs of impairment, and that the nurse testified Dunn walked to the bathroom at the hospital normally.
“Drinking alcohol and then driving isn’t a crime. Being impaired, having your ability to do so safely because of being impaired by alcohol, that’s the crime,” he said. “And all you have here is, the government has established that he was in a bar room and he had a few drinks.”
Bennett in his closing statement emphasized the damage to Dunn’s vehicle and the other vehicles, the receipt from the bar as well as the paramedic’s statements to investigators and in the courtroom.
“You have an EMT/paramedic, he’s got nothing in this involvement, he’s got no special thing …” Bennett said. “Mr. Dunn is in an ambulance where he’s supposed to be injured and he won’t even get onto the stretcher … And that EMT, who’s been for years an EMT and a paramedic, does make an observation … that Mr. Dunn is under the influence of alcohol.”
He said it’s up to the judge to interpret, based on the video he viewed, how many drinks were “actually being poured” for Dunn in the bar.
Per police reports, testimony and a receipt, Dunn hit two parked cars after consuming a shot and mixed drinks of soda water and Tito’s vodka at Cork Wine and Tapas, and subsequently eloped from the hospital.
He was charged with OUI, leaving the scene of property damage and negligent operation of a motor vehicle after a Massachusetts State Police detective assigned by the Bristol County District Attorney’s office investigated the case. The New Bedford Police Department did not issue any citations or charges after the crash and subsequently disciplined the three officers for mishandling the incident.
Dunn has continued to serve as the Ward 3 city councilor after being re-elected in 2021, running unopposed. This spring, he joined Boston-based personal injury firm Kelly & Associates as an associate attorney.
Bennett said Dunn can now apply to get his driver’s license back after the RMV suspended it. On the outcome of the case, he said he doesn’t speculate and does the best he can to present the case in a manner that would result in justice.
On the continuance for two charges, he said they are dismissed but remain on Dunn’s record, noting if he were to get charged again, a court could see there were sufficient facts for the previous charges.
“It does make a difference for the future even though the case goes away after a year,” he said.
Walsh and Dunn told The Light they had no comment.
Email Anastasia E. Lennon at firstname.lastname@example.org.