I-Team: Unsolved Murders in Hartford
HARTFORD, Conn. (WFSB) - The I-Team is digging into unsolved murders. We first took you to New Haven.
Now Chief Investigative Reporter Sam Smink sits with Hartford’s Police Chief to learn what’s happening in the capital city.
THE MURDERS OF CHARLES AND LEON KELLEY:
With tears running down his face, Eric Allen remembers his two brothers, Charles and Leon Kelley.
“It’s really hard. Sitting there, thinking about them,” says Allen. “It’s been almost a year now. It still hurts, like it happened yesterday.”
Both were killed February 23, 2022.
“I’m the oldest but they act like they were older than I am,” says Allen. “They were always protective.”
The brothers were found inside a home on Westminster Street, both shot in the back, according to Allen.
Allen says there were multiple witnesses inside the home when it happened.
“Too many murders going on in Hartford and nobody not standing up to say anything. They know what’s happening, what’s going on,” says Allen.
The case remains open.
Allen believes the police need more help from witnesses to make an arrest.
“I think they have the evidence but nobody is saying anything,” says Allen. “They told me it was going to be resolved soon but the 22nd of February, it will be a year. It shouldn’t take that long when you have people, witnesses in there.”
The Kelleys’ murders are two of 29 cases in 2022 with no arrests, a year that saw 39 homicides.
There have been 98 homicides in Hartford between January 1st, 2020 and now.
55 have been cleared.
A 56% clearance rate, better than the national average.
“It’s been a difficult time in law enforcement. I think there were probably easier times to be Chief,” says Hartford Police Chief Jason Thody
The last two years have been some of the deadliest in Hartford’s history and Police Chief Jason Thody’s career.
“The pressure is on us, the pressure is real,” says Hartford Police Chief Jason Thody. “We want to get this violence under control probably more than anyone else. Maybe with the exception of the victims and the victims’ families.”
COMPARING HARTFORD TO OTHER CITIES:
The I-Team pulled data from comparable cities.
Waterbury Police solved 87% of their 40 homicides in the last three years.
New Haven made arrests in 13 of their 65 homicides, a 20% clearance rate.
Chief Thody says technology helps.
“Technology aids but that technology isn’t automatic. It’s driven by a team of people in our capital city crime center that are on top of their game,” says Chief Thody.
Hartford Police not only have Shot Spotter, a system that tells them immediately when a gun is fired, but a real time intel center where staff are able to quickly tap into live camera feeds.
“They’re sitting there and when that Shot Spotter goes on, they immediately start working on what they can find. Whether it’s a person, whether it’s a car, whatever it might be. Hartford Police also have what’s called, Brief Cam, a system that allows an officer to search hours of video, within minutes.
“You’re taking something that I would have had a crime analyst sit there and probably watch 8,10,12 hours of video,” says Thody. “Can narrow that to minutes of video that we have to watch.”
As for staffing, Hartford Police currently have 8 homicide detectives working cases. Chief Thody says they could always use more, but they have 20 additional Major Crimes Detectives help out as necessary.
“They live to solve these cases. They’re compassionate, the way they interact with victims,” says Chief Thody. “We’re not seeing warrants get kicked back, they’re capable. I go over there on a regular basis and they’ll be up all night.”
CHANGING THE WAY HOMICIDES ARE INVESTIGATED:
Chief Thody says a big game changer for them was when they started turning to a more evidence based approach to solving homicides, in 2021.
“One thing that we didn’t do well and I’ve been in Hartford here almost 27 years, is we’re always very reactionary. There’s a homicide and we would apply the same kind of theories to try to prevent that and solve that, without really knowing what was driving it,” says Chief Thody. “Recently, we’ve been able to really look at these incidents in a very, under the microscope. And find out what’s driving it.”
In 2021, homicides were significantly drug related.
“We focused our efforts on that,” says Chief. “In 2022, our drug related homicides were down 29%.”
But what made things harder in 2022, Chief says, is almost half of that year’s homicides were because of personal disputes.
“The triple homicide that we had this year, we believe to be an argument that stemmed over a dispute over a dog,” says Chief Thody. “We’ve had car accidents. You know minor rear end collisions that have resulted in homicide.”
The Chief says those kinds of shootings are harder to prevent, and sometimes solve, due to lack of cooperation.
“The frustrating part, these really personal disputes that happen instantaneously - they’re not predictable,” says Chief Thody. “When we have group or gang activity, we have ways between us and our community partners to break that cycle or at least slow that cycle down. Personal disputes are a little more complicated than that.”
He said because of those challenges, their main focus is on getting illegal guns off the street.
“We’ve tripled the number of ghost guns that we’ve seized in 2022 versus previous years,” and making more arrests in non-fatal shootings “because that person, that individual, that suspect, pulled the trigger and could have easily killed someone and they may do it again,” says Chief Thody. WITNESS COOPERATION:
As for the unsolved homicides, Chief Thody says there’s no one reason why the cases haven’t been closed.
“Most often than not, we know, or believe that we know who did it,” says Chief Thody. “You just might not have the pieces that get you probable cause and sometimes you have to wait.”
He said, witness cooperation always helps.
“I would dare say that we’ve seen a bit of an increase of people working with us on shootings and homicides,” says Chief Thody. “I think communities are fed up with the violence and we do tend to get more cooperation nowadays in recent years.”
But “people are concerned about retaliation, or they generally just don’t want to be involved,” says Chief Thody.
The Chief State’s Attorney’s Office has witness protection, and if you just want to relay a tip, you can do so anonymously.
“It doesn’t have to be traditional and come directly to police officers. It can come through Campus Peace Builders, Mothers United Against Violence or pastors,” says Chief Thody.
“It might be very critical for us just to know. We might need to know where it came from but that little piece of information could turn us in the right direction and solve a case,” says Thody.
Eric Allen believes that’s what could finally get his brothers justice.
“Like this happened to my family, it could happen to their family. You want somebody to sit there and talk. You want somebody to say something,” says Allen. “What if it was your mother, your brother, your sister or your niece.”
CLEARANCE RATES YEAR BY YEAR:
In 2020, there were 25 homicides in the city.
18 resulted in arrests, 2 were what’s called “exceptionally cleared.”
A 80% clearance rate.
A case is exceptionally cleared, when an offender is not arrested and formally charged due to some element beyond law enforcement control. Examples of exceptional clearances include, but are not limited to, the death of the offender (e.g., suicide or justifiably killed by police or citizen); the victim’s refusal to cooperate with the prosecution after the offender has been identified; or the denial of extradition because the offender committed a crime in another jurisdiction and is being prosecuted for that offense, according to the FBI.
In 2021, the city saw 34 homicides. 23 resulted in arrests, 2 were exceptionally cleared.
A 73% clearance rate.
In 2022, the city saw one of its deadliest years, with 39 homicides. 10 have been solved.
A 25% clearance rate.
The city of Waterbury saw 13 homicides in 2020.
2 remain under investigation -- a 84% clearance rate.
There were 10 Homicides in 2021. All 10 have been solved and closed.
In 2022, there were 16 homicides. 13 have been closed. A 81% clearance rate.
There was 1 homicide in 2023, which resulted in an arrest.
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