One can almost sense the tension that must have been in the room when three New Bedford police officers were called before their own department’s detectives, as well as a state police investigator, in the case of City Councilor Hugh Dunn.
The three officers — Jesse Branagan, Abraham Nazario and Algamantis Harrell — were faced with defending what seems nonsensical, if not impossible — explaining how it was that they never asked Councilor Dunn if he had been drinking when he crashed his car into two separate parked vehicles at 1:30 in the morning in the heart of the city’s downtown pub district.
The detectives, State Police Sgt. Christopher Dumont of the Bristol DA’s office and New Bedford Sgt. Julio Martinez, went to pains to assure their fellow officers that they were not being investigated for criminal wrongdoing. Dumont and Martinez no doubt are familiar themselves with what it’s like to sometimes be involved in a highly political case.
Even so, the three New Bedford patrolmen had no good answers for the common-sense questions of why they did not ask Mr. Dunn where he was coming from that rainy Friday night; if he had been drinking; and how it was that he had crashed his Hyundai Genesis into both a Chevy truck and a Toyota SUV, before driving his badly damaged vehicle more than 360 feet to a nearby street.
Councilor Dunn, a well-dressed, middle-class-looking, 34-year-old white guy, told the officers he had been out for a “late dinner” and that he had taken a Benadryl tablet because of allergies to his dog. He never mentioned to these patrolmen that he claims to support that during or after his late dinner he also had consumed six Tito’s vodka and sodas and a shot of Jameson Irish whiskey at Cork, one of the most popular of the downtown drinkeries.
And even as these three New Bedford officers — who one hopes are good, hard-working men otherwise — have had their reputations tarnished — Dunn, supposedly one of the council’s biggest supporters of the police union, has remained silent. That is except to recently brag outside a downtown bar — separate from the one he was drinking in before the crash — that the state doesn’t have “shit” on him, and that “the cops aren’t going to say shit.”
These same poor cops all claimed they smelled no alcohol on Dunn’s breath or signs of intoxication, even though both paramedics who treated him smelled it, and even though the St. Luke’s staff who treated him said his eyes showed he was inebriated. Everyone involved said he was steady on his feet, but Officer Nazario also described him as “doozy,” and possibly disoriented.
Those same poor cops also said they did not know Dunn was a city councilor, even though a state police report obtained by The Standard-Times quotes one of the paramedics on scene saying one of the officers told him Dunn was a city councilor.
It’s a case that no doubt has hurt the already battered New Bedford Police Department’s reputation, and new Chief Paul Oliveira has said as much in a press statement accompanying the release of the internal investigation to The New Bedford Light and Standard-Times on their public records request for the investigation. The patrolmen’s failure has “in part, diminished the public’s trust in our department,” he wrote.
A police union representative was present for the interview of the officer — Abraham Nazario — who received the severest discipline (a 20-day unpaid suspension) — but other than that the union has been curiously silent through what has been an embarrassment for its members and a heartbreak for anyone who cares about the integrity of New Bedford city government.
Councilor Dunn, of course, could have cleared it all up early by simply acknowledging to the officers who responded that night that he had been drinking before the crashes. But he didn’t. Now it is the officers who will carry a permanent blot on their records for Dunn’s failure to stand up the way one would hope an elected leader would.
The union will probably appeal the discipline, and who knows what the politically connected class in Fall River’s court system will do with the city councilor’s case, where it will go before a clerk magistrate later this month. Dunn’s dissembling, before it’s over, may have more victims than just the New Bedford Police Department.
Dunn, during an hourlong rant about his case at The Pour Farm patio called it “all politics,” and a “hit job,” though, true to his knack for saying little when it comes to matters of self-preservation, he didn’t explain how it was so. Perhaps he was referring to the fact that he and the police union have been in a war of mutually-assured destruction with Mayor Jon Mitchell for years. That’s all certainly true but it’s also true that no disagreement over police department policy is worth tarnishing the New Bedford Department’s reputation this way.
If Dunn — who several years ago was taken into protective custody by police for wandering around the same downtown area drunk late at night — had not downed six Tito’s and a Jameson on the night of the crash, perhaps none of this would have happened. Or perhaps, that’s just the way we roll here in New Bedford. Like many other places, there is justice for the connected and justice for those who are not connected when dealing with the police.
Keep in mind that, according to the officers’ statements, when the three patrol cars arrived on the scene, Dunn never got out of his own car and flagged them down, that it was a resident of a nearby apartment building who called in the crash, not Dunn. In the internal investigation, the detectives also brought out that the resident said Dunn originally moved his vehicle off the crash into a parking spot for 5 or 10 minutes. And then with the lights shut off he moved the car again, this time to a nearby side street. That witness tried to talk to Officer Harrell and offer him photos but he told the detectives the officer did not seem interested. Harrell took his own photos, but his were not taken just after the crash, and Harrell never gave them to Nazario, who was the lead investigator.
Finally, although Officer Nazario described Dunn as appearing “doozy,” he said it didn’t occur to him he might be drunk at that hour of the morning in the lower Union Street district.
The whole sad story is perhaps best encapsulated by Officer Nazario’s responses to the detectives about what happened when he tried to question Dunn at the scene.
Here’s what the actual transcript says. It offers a good understanding of how the internal investigation, not the officers at the scene, are responsible for the facts about this case coming out.
(Detective) Holmes: “So what were your observations to make you believe he (Dunn) was doozy and out of it?”
(Officer) Nazario: “Uh, just, just wasn’t answering, like, the, the correct questions. You know what I mean? So I was asking, ‘Hey, so what’s going on? What happened?’ And …
Holmes: “So those were the questions you asked?”
Nazario: “Uh, well …”
Holmes: “What’s going on? What happened?”
Nazario: “Well, no. I asked him, you know, ‘Are you H-, are you, uh, Mr. Dunn?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah. Where’s … uh, can I reach for for my phone, so … And so I, ‘Go ahead.’ Uh, he couldn’t find the phone…”
Nazario told the investigators he concluded that Dunn may have been disoriented by the accident, noting the councilor said he needed medical attention. He never asked about drinking, and he never asked why Dunn drove away from the crash. He also never followed up at St. Luke’s Hospital that night as he acknowledged to the detectives he has done many times before and is customary for police with injury cases. St. Luke’s has said that Dunn later that night “eloped” from the hospital without being released.
Nazario went back to his difficulty in questioning Dunn later in his interview.
It was at the time Detective Holmes asked him if he had ever asked Dunn why he had driven the car away from the accident, over to a side street and up the hill. He was driving on one of his wheel’s rims and it left marks on the road the whole way.
“I didn’t ask him on scene because just based on, on the brief interaction I had with him, I wasn’t really getting the answers that …” Nazario said.
And then he trailed off.
The city is left with the aftermath of this botched police response and this too clever-by-half councilor.
Dunn, in what may be the ultimate measurement of how tuned out city residents are to politics, has no opponent in this fall’s city election.
The Bristol District Attorney’s Office, however, has asked a clerk magistrate to bring criminal charges against the city councilor for driving under the influence, leaving the scene of a property damage accident and negligent operation of a motor vehicle. The magistrate will hear whether there is probable cause for the charges.
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