Belchertown Police Chief Francis Fox Jr. wrote that he ‘probably should not have been driving’ after drinking beer while watching Super Bowl



Last modified: Thursday, September 17, 2015

BELCHERTOWN — Police Chief Francis Fox Jr. had been drinking beer and watching the Super Bowl before he was stopped by a Granby patrolman for driving erratically in his unmarked cruiser, Fox acknowledged in an email the following morning to Granby Police Chief Alan Wishart.

In his email, time-stamped at 11:18 a.m. Feb. 2, Fox, who is now on paid leave, wrote that he wanted to thank and apologize to the Granby Police officers involved in his motor vehicle stop at 9:35 the previous evening. He also wanted to know if he had left his cellphone with them because he could not find it, according to the email, which lacks punctuation.

“I watched the Super Bowl and had a couple of beers,” Fox wrote. “I probably should not have been driving got stopped and they gave me a break very professional and drove me home my apologies but tell them I greatly appreciate it ... ”

The message was sent from Fox’s email account with Western New England University in Springfield, where he has served in the past as an adjunct faculty member in the criminal justice and sociology department. It was among the internal documents obtained Wednesday by the Gazette through a public records request with the Granby Police Department.

Fox wrote to Wishart a second time at 2:48 p.m. on the same day from an iPhone to let the Granby police chief know that he had found his phone at his office in Belchertown, after all.

“Tell officers thanks again and my apologies,” he wrote in the second email.

Also Wednesday, the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security placed Fox on leave as an instructor at the Western Massachusetts Regional Police Academy, on the campus of Springfield Technical Community College.

“Chief Fox’s instructor status is currently suspended because he is on administrative suspension at Belchertown,” Felix Browne, a spokesman for the state agency said in a statement. “His long-term status as an instructor will be revisited upon resolution of that issue.”

According to a February report by Granby patrolman Jason Richard, Fox’s vehicle was seen driving on the wrong side of the road and nearly striking another vehicle driven by a motorist who alerted police by calling 911. After pulling Fox over, Richard stated that Fox was slurring his words, smelled of alcohol, stumbled when he got out of the car and “observed his eyes to be extremely red, bloodshot and glossy.”

In his report, Richard noted that Fox argued with him, insisting he was “fine to drive” and at one point asked Richard “if he knew who he was” and that “he had been a cop for 30 years.”

Richard made the decision to drive Fox home in his unmarked cruiser and, according to a report of a conversation he had with Fox at his residence, Fox “did not appreciate my attitude towards him and he asked me who I thought he was to talk to him that way.”

After Richard explained that Fox had put him in a very difficult position, Fox “then asked me if I never drove drunk before. I explained that I had never driven after I had as much to drink as he had tonight. Chief Fox stated that he had to be at the police academy to ‘f---’ with recruits at 8 a.m.”

Fox then thanked Richard for using his discretion before walking into his residence, according to Richard’s report.

The Belchertown Select Board has scheduled an executive session at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Town Hall during which Fox is expected to appear to answer questions. The board placed Fox on paid leave Monday and named Sgt. Bruce Jenks as acting chief.

Wishart explains

Other emails between and among the Granby Police Department and Select Board members obtained by the Gazette shed new light on how Granby Police responded to Fox’s traffic stop in February and how they planned to respond after a local news reporter requested a copy of the police report on Fox’s traffic stop seven months later.

In a Sept. 8 email to Granby Select Board members and Town Administrator Christopher Martin, Wishart, Granby’s police chief, alerted them to the Feb. 1 traffic stop involving Fox and explained how the department dealt with it. Wishart had been in Florida on a family vacation when he was alerted to the incident the day after it happened.

After driving Fox home, Richard had contacted Police Sgt. Kevin O’Grady “and told him what had transpired and that he had decided not to arrest Fox,” Wishart wrote in his email. “Officer Richard also said that he was going to do a detailed report.”

Wishart wrote that when he spoke to O’Grady while in Florida, he directed him to speak with Richard to get specific details about what happened and why he chose not to arrest Fox.

“Sergeant O’Grady did so and reported back that Officer Richard stated that he had been put in a horrible position by Fox and that he decided to get him off the road,” Wishart wrote in his email to town officials. “He was put in a bad position by Fox’s position and demeanor.”

Wishart informed the town officials in his email that Richard made a discretionary decision that put a premium on stopping the immediate public safety threat posed by Fox driving that night, adding that the patrolman fully disclosed the facts and his reasoning afterward.

Wishart informed the town officials that both he and O’Grady would have preferred that Fox be arrested. He added that Richard had been verbally instructed on how the situation could have been handled better.

Speaking with the Gazette Wednesday, Wishart said Richard was instructed to call a supervisor earlier in a situation like the one he encountered with Fox. Wishart said he relayed that same information to officers throughout the department.

According to the Granby department’s policies and procedures, incidents involving impaired drivers call for an arrest. The policies prohibit preferential treatment and call for enforcement activities to be conducted in a “consistent and uniform manner that does not give preference to either local residents or non-residents.”

“It’s not in line with the preferred response,” Wishart said of the way the Fox traffic stop was handled.

Asked whether he had considered filing a criminal complaint against Fox after learning about the incident in February, Wishart said he considered various options but “didn’t think that it was a valid option at that point.”

“I believe that at that point, the only option was that whatever reports we had we fully preserved, and I expected it (the incident) to come out,” Wishart said.

Nonetheless, Wishart said he did not notify town officials in either Granby or Belchertown about the incident because that would have been making an exception in light of the hundreds of other cases the department responds to that may involve alcohol, but do not result in an arrest.

“We didn’t try to keep it a secret,” Wishart said of the police report involving Fox’s traffic stop. “Nobody asked for it and we didn’t publicize it for a variety of reasons.”

“We don’t call employers” of other individuals involved in alcohol-related incidents who are not placed under arrest, he said.

Now that the incident has come to light, he said, “There’s nothing we can do other than be transparent.”

Asked whether he believes the Granby Police Department should have alerted town officials about the incident, Mark L. Bail, chairman of the Granby Select Board, said it’s not something he would have expected to see come before his board.

“I’m glad I didn’t learn about this earlier, it’s really not part of my job,” Bail said. “I don’t need to know who gets arrested or not arrested.”

Bail said “nobody’s perfect” and that he had a lot of faith in the integrity of the Granby Police Department and its officers.

“I think he (Richard) was put in a really bad situation,” Bail said. “I feel like he was pushed pretty hard by somebody with a superior rank. He took care of the most important thing, which was public safety.”

Eric Goldscheider contributed to this report. Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.


 


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