fb-pixel

Drunken encounter at car dealership lays bare problems with police at Bedford VA

The VA Hospital in Bedford. A 2015 report found policy violations under Bedford VA Police Chief Shawn Kelley.
The VA Hospital in Bedford. A 2015 report found policy violations under Bedford VA Police Chief Shawn Kelley.(Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/file 2017)

Thomas Reddy Jr. was tending to final details of his work as a captain on the Bedford Veterans Affairs police force when he staggered into a Herb Chambers dealership last month, clearly inebriated, according to employees and police reports.

Reddy, who recently transferred to the VA police academy, had run out of gas in front of the Burlington showroom and he quickly became combative when employees told him they did not have gas available to refill his tank, the police reports said.

“He started to get excited and opened his jacket to show he had a gun,” said one worker, adding that Reddy was struggling to maintain his footing. “We said ‘We’ll call an Uber. We’ll give you a ride home. We don’t feel comfortable putting gas in your car and letting you leave.’ ”

Advertisement



Police eventually arrested the profanity-spewing Reddy and locked him in a cell — where he stuffed the toilet with paper and banged his head against the cell door, police reports said.

“Mr. Reddy’s behavior can only be described as out of control,” wrote Burlington Officer Spiros Tsingos of the Jan. 10 case.

Now, Reddy is facing dismissal from the VA and Bedford VA Police Chief Shawn Kelley has been “relieved from his duties,” the latest in a string of embarrassing problems for the 30-member police force that patrols the Bedford VA Medical Center. It also comes amid sharp criticism of the VA police force nationally.

Spokeswoman Maureen Heard said the agency has launched “an immediate investigation and formal review” to determine Kelley’s future. The VA action comes after a Boston Globe reporter questioned Kelley’s leadership, including his oversight of Reddy, whose license to carry a gun was revoked in 2017 by Marblehead police after they responded to a domestic incident at his house and reportedly found him drunk, with guns.

Advertisement



VA officials also said they are “taking steps to remove (Reddy) from VA employment” even before the criminal charges — disturbing the peace and carrying a gun without a license — are resolved. Reddy’s lawyer declined to comment. Reddy hung up when contacted by a reporter.

Kelley declined to comment, saying that his focus is on a family member recently diagnosed with a serious illness.

A scathing 2015 report found rampant policy violations under Kelley. In addition, a former chief has been imprisoned since 2014 for plotting to rape and kill women and children.

Former officers of the Bedford VA Police Department said Reddy’s conduct is symptomatic of a police force they described as dysfunctional and undisciplined.

“The place is just chaos, the worst place I ever worked in my life” said one former officer. “I’d rather go back into combat and worry about getting shot than go back to work there.”

The upheaval in Bedford comes as the VA struggles to upgrade the professionalism of the sprawling department’s 4,000 police officers across the nation. The issue has dogged the VA since a 1988 report that found most officers were either unqualified or unsuited for their positions.

Only a month before Reddy’s arrest, the VA’s inspector general found that the department has failed to properly manage its force, resulting in millions of dollars of overtime waste and security gaps. Part of the problem, the IG said, is that police chiefs report to the director of the facility where they work, not a central police authority. As a result, it’s difficult for the VA to enforce national standards.

Advertisement



Before his arrest, Reddy had won a coveted position late last year in a training program to become an instructor at the agency’s police academy in Arkansas. On the day of the encounter at the car dealership, Reddy had returned to Massachusetts to testify as a witness in an assault case arising from his work at the Bedford VA.

Reddy’s new post at the police academy surprised some co-workers who knew about his difficult past. Reddy had once been a state trooper, but he was dismissed in 2006 before completing his probationary period. A State Police spokesman declined to give a reason for Reddy’s dismissal.

Reddy soon got into fresh controversy after Kelley hired him at the Bedford VA several years ago. In late 2017, two women told VA officials that Reddy had made inappropriate and sexually suggestive comments to them. One of them told the Globe that nothing came of her formal complaint.

In the complaint, a copy of which was obtained by the Globe, one VA employee said Reddy stared at her “as if I have no clothes” on, she wrote.

“Capt. Reddy . . . carries a gun and that intimidates me. I was reluctant” to file a complaint, she wrote. “However, I will not allow someone to make me feel the way he makes me feel.”

Earlier in that same year, the town of Marblehead revoked his permit to carry a gun, though Reddy’s lawyer, Jason Guida, pointed out that Massachusetts gun laws exempt military personnel and police officers carrying weapons “in the performance of their official duty or when duly authorized to possess them.”

Advertisement



However, VA spokeswoman Susan Carter said Reddy would not have been hired for the job at the VA’s Law Enforcement Training Center in Little Rock had officials there known he had his license to carry revoked.

Reddy’s checkered career in some ways parallels larger problems in the Bedford VA force, according to former officers.

A former Bedford VA police chief, Richard Meltz, is currently in a federal prison in Ayer after pleading guilty in 2014 to plotting to kidnap, rape, and kill women. He was police chief when he was arrested on April 14, 2013.

Meltz was heard on a wiretap expressing delight at the prospect of targeting and strangling unsuspecting women.

An unnamed coconspirator asked Meltz what he would do with a 9-year-old he was plotting to kill, court records show. “You want to hang the 9-year-old?” asked Meltz. “I would rather manually choke her but hanging is nice also.”

The year after Meltz went to prison, the VA’s Office of Security and Law Enforcement raised serious questions about the leadership of his successor, Kelley, who took over as chief in late 2013.

The Sept. 30, 2015, report found the Bedford force failed to fully complete background checks of new officers, including Reddy, and failed to train officers before they began serving.

Advertisement



The agency also did not report an alleged rape to criminal authorities and some officers displayed their guns while in plainclothes in clear violation of the VA’s weapons policy, the report said.

In all, the 37-page inspection report detailed 92 areas in which the Bedford department failed to comply with the VA’s explicit and detailed requirements related to training, firearms, recordkeeping, and referrals.

Many of the deficiencies were called “fundamentally critical” violations.

VA officials wouldn’t say what steps the agency took to correct the problems or whether Kelley or anyone else faced discipline because of the report’s findings.

But Reddy’s conduct at the Herb Chambers dealership suggests that the Bedford VA police force still faces embarrassing issues, something Reddy himself tacitly seemed to recognize. When he sobered up, he asked the police if they could just let him walk out the back door of the station, according to a police report.

But police declined to let Reddy go and charged him with two criminal counts instead. He is due in court on Feb. 15.


Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.