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BPD officer suspended after towing dispute

BRADENTON — A Bradenton Police Department officer has been suspended after internal investigators found he tried to use his position as a police officer to get his son-in-law’s car back after it was towed from a Tampa apartment complex.

The violations led to a written reprimand and a 20-hour unpaid suspension for Officer Christopher Hutchko, according to a police internal affairs report.

Hutchko declined to comment.

Internal affairs reports said Dec. 13, 2008, Hutchko attempted to retrieve his son-in-law’s car from a tow yard in Tampa. A tow truck driver said the officer flashed his police badge and demanded the car be released.

During a dispute with the tow truck driver, Hutchko also took the driver’s name and date of birth and had a Bradenton police dispatcher run a background check on the man, the report said.

Police officials charged Hutchko with violating department policies by conducting an investigation in a personal quarrel and misuse of criminal justice information. “We learned about it and took the appropriate action,” Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said of the suspension.

Hutchko denied showing the tow truck driver his badge or using his position as a police officer in an attempt to influence the tow truck driver, the internal affairs report said. He also denied running a background check, telling investigators he was just trying to verify the tow truck driver’s name.

Bradenton Police Capt. Russell Tibbitts called Hutchko’s claim “disingenuous” in his report to Radzilowski.

Tibbitts based his assertion on listening to an audio recording of Hutchko’s request to dispatch, of which Tibbitts said “there was no doubt in my mind that Officer Hutchko conducted a check” on the driver.

“And I find it disingenuous that he would tell me under oath he had no idea whether dispatch ran a warrants check with the information provided them,” Tibbitts wrote.

Hutchko almost received a stiffer suspension after his testimony about the call to dispatch after Bradenton Police Deputy Chief J.J. Lewis found him to be in violation of policies by being “untruthful in an official proceeding” and “engaging in conduct creating doubts regarding honesty.”

But a procedural glitch caused police officials to drop an additional 20-hour suspension for the violations because investigators failed to allow Hutchko to listen to the dispatch recording before he testified about it, according to the internal affairs report.

Hutchko, a six-year veteran, has a record of distinction with the department. In May 2004, Lewis called him a “true asset” to the department as the officer received a Medal of Valor for disarming a suicidal woman holding a knife in one hand and a baby in the other during an encounter with police the previous October.