Wife of Farmington Officer Hit by Stolen Vehicle Speaks Out, Seeks Liability Bill Change | Connecticut News
FARMINGTON, CT (WFSB) – Her husband was nearly killed by a man police call a “career criminal.”
The wife of Farmington Police Officer James O’Donnell has spoken exclusively to Channel 3 about how this tragedy has changed lives.
Farmington Police last week released dash camera footage from the crash that happened last month.
These tragedies have happened before, but it’s rare to learn more about the impact on human lives captured in a grainy black and white video.
On the night of September 20, Kris O’Donnell woke up with a start.
Lt. McKenzie yelled ‘police’ and I said, ‘I see that. My husband is a cop. I can’t open the door. He then said,’ Kris, James had an accident, James was hit by a car, ”she explained. “I almost passed out on the floor.”
Police told her her husband, a three-year veteran of the Farmington Police Department, was responding to a call about stolen catalytic converters from Talcott Forest Road.
Thanks to dash cam footage released last week, the suspect is seen in a white car that is stuck with parked cars, trees and Officer O’Donnell’s cruiser. It’s a video that haunts his wife.
“I needed to see it every second and I watched it over and over again,” she said.
The stolen car was driven by Pedro Acevedo, 32.
It’s a situation, Kris said, that would make any officer question whether the use of lethal force would be appropriate.
Officer O’Donnell raises his gun but does not fire.
“He hesitated, he hesitated,” Kris said.
Police say Acevedo fled upon entering O’Donnell.
“I wanted to see if there was a reaction from the guy who did this. Did he stop, maybe, and hesitated before he left, ”Kris said.
In the dash cam video, there appears to be no hesitation. The car accelerates with the police behind.
Another officer and an eyewitness with medical training rushed to O’Donnell’s side.
When Kris speaks with her husband now, she is hesitant to go into the details of that night.
“I’m not skilled in psychology, I don’t know what the long term effects will be if we discuss him getting hit. I don’t know what he specifically remembers, ”Kris said.
She believes James didn’t pull the trigger because he didn’t want to face a possible trial.
This is now a possibility for the Connecticut officers.
It is part of the Police Liability Act that was passed last year following the death of George Floyd.
“I would bet my life that my husband didn’t shoot because we would have lost our home,” Kris said.
Instead, Agent O’Donnell spends his days recovering at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, trying to regain his ability to move his lower body.
“He had too many fractures in the pelvis and hip area for them to even count. The surgeon used the word ‘smashed’, ”she explained.
Kris visits her husband there as often as she can.
Right now, she needs to prepare their two children, Andrew, 2, and Saoirse, 6 months, for their father’s new reality.
It includes a chairlift to go up the stairs.
Kris says James has a rod through his hips and has no lower body strength. He slowly begins the rehabilitation process.
While the 32-year-old father-of-two will be in rehab for at least a month, doctors believe O’Donnell will one day walk again.
The children do not know what happened and have not seen their father since this tragedy.
“Their father is trying to make things safe for society. Farmington should be in turmoil over what’s going on, ”O’Donnell said.
Kris believes that without her relentless fight to raise awareness on social media, her husband’s near-death experience would be forgotten.
“While this situation affects me personally, I think the situation affects the public even more than it affects me,” Kris said.
This statement may resonate more knowing that the suspect in this case was convicted of assault 42 days before he allegedly used that stolen car to hit Constable O’Donnell.
Kris seeks to change the law on police accountability.
She uses what happened to her husband as a prime example of how officers now approach work differently.
The idea of a potential litigation after the police have used force is more than ever a reality.
Last year, the legislature passed the law.
“I believe in 90% of this bill,” she said. “Create diversity, bring minorities into the police, bring women into the police. “
Part of it is controversial.
It removed what’s called qualified immunity, which means that police officers who use force can be prosecuted in civilian court.
Kris relates it to what happened on the 20th.
“If he fired and this shooting was unwarranted, we could have been personally responsible in a civilian court and lost everything we just worked for,” she said. “Removing qualified immunity was not the answer to social justice reform. All this endangers the life of the police. “
Kris asks the audience to look no further than her husband.
Thanks to the dashcam video posted last week, we see the incident unfolding.
Kris felt it was important to see it for herself.
If Agent O’Donnell, fearing for his life, had fired a shot in this situation, because the white car appeared to be trapped, that shot could have been scrutinized.
“A jury is not a trained eye. I am not a trained eye and thought the car was stuck. I wouldn’t have believed that a car could physically move in a 4-foot space, ”Kris said. “To a reasonable eye, a 6-foot car cannot fit in a 4-foot space and it does.”
And O’Donnell almost lost his life.
Kris firmly believes that her husband did not shoot because he feared a lawsuit.
“He protected us. I know he protected us, ”she said.
Acevedo was convicted of assault just 42 days before the crime. He is being held on $ 750,000 bond while police search for an accomplice, who they say is still at large.
In addition to juggling a full-time job in the court system, O’Donnell tries to repurpose the house to be ADA accessible.
She also remains active on social networks.
“No one was saying ‘justice for James’,” she said.
Angry and unwavering, Kris argues that without qualified immunity, which existed before the passage of the Police Accountability Bill, officers are unable to react in the moment.
“The officers cannot be compelled to process things in a matter of milliseconds and they are crucified,” she said.
Through direct Instagram calls, she challenges lawmakers to review the accountability law.
“They can’t ignore it now,” she said.
Many respond and she is convinced that the bill will be discussed in the next legislative session.
“Evil is winning over good at this time and we have to fix it,” she said.
The reason Kris wanted to do the interview is because she says she feels forgotten and owes her husband to share their reality as well as the reality that agents here in the state face.
She wants people to see the unfiltered dashcam video of her banged husband.
* We are posting this unedited video of the dashcams recording the moment Farmington cop James O’Donnell was stuck between a cop car and a stolen car. Video and audio can be difficult to see and hear. We are posting the video because Kris O’Donnell, the officer’s wife, thinks it’s important for people to see what happened to better understand the realities our officers face. *