Police Chief's Crash Kept Quiet, Raising Transparency, Special Treatment Concerns

The NBC10 Investigators are digging into a serious three-vehicle crash involving a local police chief in his department-issued SUV. The public safety official walked away from the wreck without any citations and city leaders never mentioned details of the crash to the public

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On a Saturday night along Route 24, Marie Berthe Francois pulled over in the breakdown lane and flipped on her emergency flashers so she could reset her GPS device.

Without warning, a vehicle smashed into her from behind. The impact spun her car around so it was facing in the opposite direction.

"The noise was so loud," Francois recalled. "It all happened so fast."

Francois’ arm got caught in the wheel and twisted violently as the car shifted from the collision.

Before long, first responders arrived. Outside her vehicle, Francois saw another vehicle that was flipped on its side. She could hear a woman’s voice calling for help.

Francois went to the hospital. So did the two adults and a toddler who were riding in the car that had flipped in the wreck.

The crash left Francois, a mother of five kids, with a separated shoulder and nerve damage in her arm. She now unexpectedly loses control of things she’s holding, something she learned the hard way when a pot of boiling water dropped on her foot, causing second-degree burns.

"This crash has affected me physically and emotionally," Francois said, telling us that she still hears the voice of the driver calling for help.

Days after the crash, Francois went to the tow lot to retrieve belongings from her totaled car. She was stunned when she first saw the damage and realized a passenger in the back seat likely wouldn’t have survived.

"I was in shock and I cried when I saw it," Francois said. "It’s a miracle that I’m here talking to you."

It was at the tow lot that Francois learned who was behind the wheel of the vehicle that hit her and another driver on May 15, 2021: Brockton’s police chief, Emanuel Gomes.

The chief’s department-issued 2020 Ford SUV was totaled in the wreck and had to be replaced at taxpayer expense.

The incident has never been publicly reported. So do taxpayers have a right to know?

The NBC10 Boston Investigators took the issue to Todd McGhee, a security and law enforcement analyst and retired state trooper, along with Mary Connaughton, the director of transparency at the Pioneer Institute.

"[Taxpayers] pay for that car that was destroyed," Connaughton said. "It’s really a shame that it was so kept in the dark."

McGhee added: "Government agency? Government official? Taxpayer-funded equipment? This is a public story."

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According to the state police crash report, Gomes’ vehicle was traveling on the on-ramp from Interstate 495 to get onto Route 24 northbound.

For an unknown reason, the report said the chief veered off the ramp and struck Francois’ vehicle in the breakdown lane.

Gomes then continued into lanes of traffic and side-swiped the other vehicle, causing it to flip on its side. The chief’s vehicle ended up in the median of the highway.

Gomes’ statement listed in the report was: "Everything happened so fast. I don’t remember what happened."

Despite concluding that the police chief caused the crash, State Police did not issue any citations or perform a field sobriety test, according to the report.

The report said Gomes had a minor cut on his forehead and he declined medical attention. His department vehicle was towed to Lynch’s Towing in Brockton. When we visited the office, a manager told us he gave the chief a ride home from the scene.

The crash does not appear on Gomes’ RMV driving record, which we obtained via public records request.

"No citation? No blemish on his driving record? That’s such a double standard," Connaughton said.

About 12 miles from the crash scene on that Saturday night, a tragedy had unfolded in Brockton when two teens drowned.

A city spokesperson told us the police chief was on his way to the scene, but Brockton’s mayor never disclosed to the community why the top public safety official was not at the Saturday night press conference with other city leaders.

"Transparency is always the best policy," McGhee said. "The longer information is withheld, I believe there is going to be greater scrutiny."

When asked about the incident, a State Police spokesperson pointed out that the crash report concluded Gomes caused the wreck. He has not responded to a follow-up question about why no citation was issued.

We also requested all records related to the crash from State Police in March. A records custodian initially indicated the documents would be available in mid-April. There have been no updates provided since then, despite numerous calls and emails asking for an update.

We have asked the state’s Supervisor of Public Records to intervene.

Gomes retired in January after a 36-year year career with the police department. He did not respond to our inquiry.

Brockton Mayor Robert Sullivan declined our interview request. In a short statement that did not address any of the questions we’d posed, he wrote:

"The Massachusetts State Police investigated this accident that occurred on Route 24 involving the former police chief. The city followed all appropriate procedures with regards to this incident."

We are also in the midst of an appeals process with the City of Brockton for public records that could provide additional details about how the crash was handled, including phone calls, text messages and emails.

When reached by phone, City Council President John Lally told us that he and fellow council members were not briefed about the crash. Lally said he learned many of the details for the first time from NBC10 Boston.

Meantime, Francois said she is still going to bi-weekly physical therapy appointments to recover from her injuries.

It took months for her to muster the courage to get behind the wheel again. Afraid someone will rear-end her vehicle, Francois told us she sticks to town roads and avoids the highway.

A year later, she is still left with plenty of questions.

"How come this was never reported?" Francois said. "No one ever reached out to see if everyone was okay. I’ll probably never be the same."

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@nbcuni.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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