His job as a D.A.R.E. officer was to teach children how to make good decisions about drug and alcohol use.
But it was his own misguided decisions about how to communicate with those children that led to his termination earlier this month from the Avon Police Department.
Former Avon Police Officer Todd Akerley, 35, is accused of sending improper text messages to an 11-year-old girl he met while running the D.A.R.E. program at Thompson Brook School. Akerley, a 10-year veteran of the local department, was fired after two internal affairs investigations found his conduct to be in violation of department policies. Police have made their 1,195-page internal affairs reports available to the media.
While investigators did not find Akerley’s contact with students to be sexual, department leadership deemed his behavior unprofessional. In a separate criminal investigation, officials found no evidence that Akerley broke the law.
From the start of the investigations in May, the department placed Akerley on “non-punitive paid” administrative leave. In a second internal affairs investigation stemming from the first, officials ruled that Akerley violated terms of his leave.
Late Night Communications With Multiple Children
Police officials objected to the tone and frequently late hours of his texting and online interactions with at least eight current or former D.A.R.E. students investigators interviewed, ages 11 to 14, including the girl from the complaint, and “at least 80 other pre or early teens on Instagram.”
Many of the conversations, mostly with females, happened “during the late evening hours, some past midnight,” police said.
Investigations into his actions began when on May 23 when a doctor at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center made an urgent phone call to Avon Police Chief Mark Rinaldo. The woman reported “disturbing text messages with sexual content” that Akerley allegedly sent to an Avon student in the D.A.R.E. program.
As someone serving on the Greater Hartford Multidisciplinary Child Abuse Team, she was required to report the incident to DCF. Rinaldo previously told the Hartford Courant that the department is awaiting the findings of a DCF investigation.
Avon police confirmed the complaint with the child’s parents, who “also viewed the suspect text messages,” the report said. When former Thompson Brook School Principal Anne Watson told Akerley about the parents’ concern, he left a voicemail for the mother to address it.
In an interview with investigators on May 28, the student’s parents told police that Akerley crossed “boundaries” and called the “time and tone of the text messages” to be inappropriate.
Police discovered texting conversations with the student on Akerley’s cell phone from May 10 between 7:03 p.m. and 7:19 p.m. and May 17 up to 11:53 p.m. The student initiated both conversations and Akerley responded with a couple references to “joining the student in social activities,” police said.
In a texting conversation on May 17, the student told Akerley she was having a sleepover with a fellow 12-year-old female D.A.R.E. student. Akerley responded, “Ladies night (with a thumbs up emoticon).”
His next message to the student said, “Let me know if you ever need the police 'me' to come over if u need help watching movies, finishing food, ice cream, etc (hand with thumb up) when u have ur fun nights.”
The student responded the next morning with “Haha.”
Police found no online conversations between Akerley and the student.
Rinaldo confronted Akerley about the texts later that day and he was cooperative. In a mandated memo to department leadership, Akerley wrote that the texting was “kidding around like I typically do in my life and during DARE classes” and that “there was and never will be a time when I would go over and actually do what I had written via text.”
Parents told police in their May 28 interview that they didn’t think that Akerley “should be punished severely for the messages,” the report said. The father told police that if Akerley used texting to “build trust with the students” and his methods saved “even one kid, then he felt that it was a useful tool” commended his commitment, the report stated.
Students Encouraged to Follow Officer on Social Media
Akerley is an active social media user, often responding to student comments under photos he posted on his personal Instagram account, TWA0237. Akerley’s account has privacy settings that only allow users to view his page if he accepts their friend requests. Police confirmed that he uploaded 94 images to the photo-sharing and filtering iPhone application.
Akerley encouraged students to follow him on social media. He gave his cell phone number out in D.A.R.E. class and many students found it on Instagram, according to the investigation. Given that practice, police said he exposed students to inappropriate images when he uploaded them to Instagram.
Police concluded the internal affairs investigations by Aug. 23, following the criminal and DCF investigations.
Prior to working in Avon, Akerley was an officer for four years at the Hartford Police Department. In addition to being a D.A.R.E. instructor at the time of actions in question, Akerley was assigned to patrol and also worked with Avon police cadets in the Explorer program and serves as an assistant post advisor, police said.
Avon Patch left messages with Akerley and the police union representing him and could not reach either immediately for comment.
More information will be provided when it becomes available.