VILLA HILLS, Ky. — After allegedly sharing video of himself drinking alcohol at his birthday celebration, an off-duty Covington police officer ran a stop sign and crashed his personal vehicle into a guard rail in a residential neighborhood in Villa Hills.
A Villa Hills police investigation found Devyn Harris was going about 30 miles per hour Feb. 8 when he drove headfirst into the guard rail.
Harris, a Covington police officer since December 2020, told police he was "checking" his phone when he wrecked in a residential neighborhood near Benedictine Sisters of St. Walburg Monastery.
On Villa Hills police body camera video, Harris insisted that he didn't pass out while driving.
Harris declined the I-Team's request for comment.
"Prior to the collision, Officer Harris sent "Snap-Chat" video of his consumption of alcohol as part of his celebration of his birthday," Covington Police Chief Robert Nader wrote in a March 1 order suspending Harris for one day. "Many members of the Police Department observed such videos."
Harris' suspension order doesn't reveal what time Harris posted those videos on the night he crashed.
Nader declined to say how many Covington officers saw Harris' Snap-Chat videos and which officers received the videos.
Villa Hills Police Chief Bryan Allen insisted that his officers investigating the Feb. 8 crash were not aware that Harris had allegedly been drinking alcohol and sharing video of it with other police officers before he crashed.
"We didn't have enough probable cause (to file charges)," Villa Hills Police Chief Bryan Allen told the WCPO 9 I-Team during a telephone interview.
Police records show Harris had deep lacerations on his face and head following the wreck. An EMS crew transported him to University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Villa Hills officers didn't "observe" evidence at the crash scene that Harris was under the influence of alcohol or drugs when he wrecked, according to the police collision report.
If VHPD officers had known Harris shared video of himself allegedly drinking prior to the crash, Allen said, they would have handled the case differently.
"It probably would have given us probable cause" to request a search warrant for Harris' blood to see if he was intoxicated, Allen said. "The (Covington) internal investigation was never shared with me."
In an email, Nader told the I-Team he learned about Harris' videos "the day after the accident."
"Your questions appear to be wondering whether the officer was impaired at the time of the accident, and whether a social media post seen after the fact would prove that," Nader wrote in the email. "See the Villa Hills police report in which the officers who investigated the wreck describe their firsthand observations of the scene, including any evidence to suggest alcohol influence. In the court of law, their observations are key."
Allen said the decision to not charge Harris was made after consulting with the Kenton County Attorney's Office.
"We were not a party to any decision-making," Kenton County Attorney's Office Executive Director Susan Topmiller wrote in an email to the I-Team. "The Kenton County Attorney’s Office was unaware of any of the events relating to the crash of Mr. Devyn Harris until helping process an open records request made by WCPO to Kenton County dispatch on March 7, 2022. That was our only interaction on this case."
Police response to the crash
Police records show Harris wrecked around 11:20 p.m. at the intersection of Amsterdam and Collins roads.
The T intersection requires all traffic to stop at a stop sign.
Harris was driving on the 900 block of Collins Road, a straight, flat residential neighborhood street. It was wet, but the weather was clear.
Officers did not consider road conditions a factor in the crash.
The guard rail running along Amsterdam Road may have prevented Harris from plunging into a lake on the other side.
A neighborhood resident called 911 to report the crash and Harris' need for urgent medical attention for serious face and head lacerations.
Within minutes, six Villa Hills officers, a Kenton County Sheriff's deputy and two Covington officers arrived at the scene of the one-vehicle wreck late on a Tuesday night.
Allen said Harris didn't receive that much police attention because he's an officer.
"We treat every accident the same," Allen said.
On Villa Hills police body camera video, Harris is heard repeatedly screaming for "Sean."
"I need Sean Dooley, please," Harris tells another Villa Hills officer. "I need Sean now."
Sean Dooley is one of the Villa Hills officers who responded to the wreck.
Police body camera video shows Dooley running to Harris and trying to calm and comfort Harris.
"Harris, I got you dude," Dooley told Harris.
Dooley is listed on Villa Hills police records as the "investigator" of the crash.
"He's a great f****** dude," Dooley told other officers on his body camera video.
The I-Team was unable to determine if Dooley and Harris were friends or just acquaintances through police work in nearby communities.
Allen insisted Dooley's relationship with Harris didn't create a conflict for Dooley.
"It doesn't mean he can't do the report," Allen said. "He (Harris) was calling for someone he knew and we comforted him until EMS got there."
In Harris' Covington suspension order, Nader wrote, "Villa Hills Police determined the factor that caused the collision was texting and driving which is a violation of KRS 189.292."
But Allen said officers couldn't charge Harris with texting while driving because officers didn't see him doing it.
Body camera video shows Harris repeatedly asked Dooley to get him his phone.
"Just get me my phone, bro," Harris said to Dooley on body camera video.
Body camera video shows Dooley finding Harris' phone under the smashed windshield of Harris' car.
Dooley gave Harris' phone to a paramedic after the EMS crew put Harris in an ambulance.
"Here, put this with his stuff," Dooley said. "Don't let him have that right now."
Allen said he wasn't concerned that officers didn't check the phone for evidence - texts, photos or video - before retrieving it for Harris.
"There was no reason for us to hold the phone," Allen said.
At 10:33 am, the day after Harris crashed, Villa Hills Sgt. Tyler Brockman sent a text message to other Villa Hills officers: "per the Chief, do not disseminate or discuss the collision from last night involving an off duty officer with outside agencies or people. All information will need to be put out by myself or Chief."
"Evidently, some officers were talking about the accident and they didn't need to be talking about it," Allen said.
The I-Team left a request for comment on Dooley's voicemail.
Dooley followed police department orders and didn't respond to our request.
Allen insisted his department handled the case like any other one-vehicle accident.
Officer Harris crashed his car three weeks after the Covington Police Department honored him as employee for the month of November 2021.
Harris was recognized for his response to a shooting and for enabling the "peaceful surrender" of the suspect.
"Our goal is to help lead our officers, especially our young officers, toward a productive and successful career," Nader wrote in his email to the I-Team. "We are happy Officer Harris recovered and is currently working to help the citizens and businesses of the City of Covington."