A former Hartford police officer is accused of illegally running the personal license plates of 28 colleagues through police databases to obtain their personal information, including that of a new female officer last May, new records show.
Zachary Freeto, 40, was found unfit for duty and left the department two weeks ago before he was arrested by his former colleagues Tuesday at Hartford police headquarters on one felony computer crime charge.
The arrest follows a monthslong internal investigation into Freeto’s actions after an “off-duty incident” in Enfield led Freeto’s former colleagues to believe he may have repeatedly and illegally accessed computer information, the department said in a statement Tuesday night.
Freeto, a 19-year veteran of the department, was placed on paid administrative leave in mid-December after “several instances of misconduct and behavior” led Police Chief Jason Thody to question whether Freeto could “properly and safely perform his duties,” according to the department’s statement. His access to the police databases was suspended a few days later and in January police leaders referred their findings to their own detective division to begin a criminal investigation.
Court records do not detail the Enfield incident or how it may have been related to Freeto’s alleged misuse of police databases. Police officials have not responded to questions about the incident nor Courant requests for department investigative files or Freeto’s prior disciplinary history.
A review of Freeto’s searches in the federal and state databases showed he used the license plates on the personal vehicles of 28 other officers parked at the department headquarters to access information about their name, date of birth, home addresses, driver’s license numbers and other vehicles registered to those people, according to the affidavit. From late April 2018 to Dec. 14, 2020, the records showed he searched several of those officers multiple times and his own information 14 times, including four times in 2020.
Freeto has been certified to the NCIC and Connecticut databases since 2002 and the biennial training for the system states officers are prohibited from using the systems for “personal reason or curiosity” and can be prosecuted for doing so, according to the affidavit. None of the officers Freeto searched for were the subject of official police business that would merit running their personal information, the affidavit concluded.
In one instance, investigators found Freeto surreptitiously ran the license plate of a new female officer after driving past her in the department’s parking lot near the end of his shift.
Video surveillance from the morning of May 3, 2020, at police headquarters showed Freeto arriving in his marked police cruiser at the department’s back parking lot and driving past the female officer as she got out of her personal vehicle, according to the affidavit.
He continued to his personal car and unloaded his police equipment into it while the female officer walked toward the building, the video showed. He then got back in his police cruiser and circled back to the female officer’s personal vehicle while as she entered the back of the police headquarters.
NCIC records and the video footage show that Freeto searched the female officer’s license plate from his in-cruiser computer to access her personal information at 6:24 a.m., precisely as he drove by her car and into another area of the parking garage, according to the affidavit.
The court records released Wednesday do not indicate what, if anything, Freeto did with any personal information he accessed about fellow officers. Hartford police officials did not immediately respond to questions regarding why the criminal investigation of a current officer was not referred to a separate department for review.
Freeto remained on paid administrative leave during the investigation and left the department under an “administrative separation” after failing a fitness for duty evaluation, Thody said.
Freeto was released after his arrest on a written promise to appear at an arraignment scheduled for the end of June in Superior Court in Hartford.
This story will be updated.
Zach Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published at Wed, 31 Mar 2021 10:13:42 +0000