The family of a 26-year-old woman killed in a 2016 car chase with a Danbury police officer has sued the city and the former police officer involved.
The wrongful death lawsuit—filed Nov. 29 in U.S. district court in New Haven—claims that former officer Jamie Hodge, who had only been on the force for one year, should never have chased the stolen vehicle on the streets of Danbury. Passenger Tiffany Fitzgerald was killed when she was thrown from the 1997 Ford Explorer after it crashed during the chase.
The driver, Ricardo Andre, was charged with first-degree manslaughter. Andre was found guilty in May and sentenced to 11 years in prison. He will only serve six years of that, with three years on probation.
But the lawsuit filed by Timothy Fitzgerald on behalf of the estate of his daughter accuses Hodge of acting recklessly. The lawsuit claims Hodge violated department policy and traffic laws when he chased the SUV in his personal vehicle.
At the time of the chase, Hodge was off-duty working a construction job when he noticed the Explorer, which had been reported stolen. According to the Waterbury Superior Court clerk’s office, Hodge pleaded guilty to traveling unreasonably fast and not obeying a traffic control signal. His case was disposed of April 26 after he paid $347 in fines.
According to press reports at the time, Tiffany Fitzgerald barely knew Andre.
Timothy Fitzgerald told Channel 61 in December 2016 that his daughter, who had three children, had known Andre for only two days before the crash. According to the Danbury Daily Voice, Amanda Fitzgerald wrote a Facebook message soon after her sister’s death. It read, in part: “She was sober, she was clean, she was a good-hearted person and she was taken advantage of. She trusted that guy to give her a ride to her job interview and he ran from the cops and killed her. She didn’t deserve it.”
The lawsuit includes claims for excessive and unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and unconstitutional custom, policy or practice; negligence; negligent use of highway; and reckless operation/indemnification.
Hodge filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the city in July 2018 claiming he was forced to retire after the incident. According to court records, Hodge dismissed the lawsuit three months later.
No attorney had been assigned to represent either the city of Danbury or Hodge as of Monday morning.
Neither Danbury corporation counsel and chief legal officer Robert Yamin, or Danbury Police Chief Patrick Ridenhour responded to a request for comment Monday.
Elliot Spector, who represented Hodge in the past, said he has not seen the latest lawsuit, but that “I might be representing him again.” Spector of Hassett & George said a decision should be made soon.
The Fitzgerald estate is represented by Eric Smith of New Haven-based Faxon Law Group. Smith did not respond to a request for comment.