Updated August 1
Aquinnah Police Chief Randhi Belain, after a night of drinking to celebrate his 47th birthday in Oak Bluffs, took a taxi home, but was brought to the wrong Vineyard Haven address in the early morning hours of March 31. He went inside, scaring the homeowners, who called 911.
When Tisbury police arrived at the Spring Street home at 3:19 am, they found their Island colleague “intoxicated by alcohol,” according to a memo written about the incident by Sgt. Chris Habekost to Tisbury Chief Daniel Hanavan about the incident. The Times obtained the memo through a public records request. It refers to Belain as the “off-duty Aquinnah Police Chief.”
The couple heard a noise in the living room. When the husband went downstairs to inspect, he saw Belain hunched over. Belain appeared to be sick, and there was a small amount of vomit on the floor next to the fireplace, the report states. He told his wife, who was still upstairs, to call police.
The door to the house was unlocked, the couple told officers that night.
“I spoke briefly with Belain, and he told me that he had become confused and walked into the wrong house after being dropped off by a taxicab at the Tisbury School,” Habekost wrote. That contradicts what the couple told The Times — that Belain was dropped off at their house by the taxi and escorted to their back door by the driver.
An initial incident report, also received by The Times through the records request, never mentions Belain, but provides the name of the person who reported it. A report filed the next morning, when the homeowner dropped off a set of keys found outside, also fails to mention Belain.
After The Times received the documents, Belain called to ask that a story not be written. “Obviously, it’s not something I’m proud of. I’m ashamed. I’m embarrassed,” he said. “I’m not trying to downplay it.”
Belain never denied the incident. Because he said he had not seen the police documents, The Times gave him 24 hours to review them. He did not respond to multiple phone messages and emails seeking further comment.
On Wednesday, Aquinnah selectmen met with Belain in an executive session. The meeting was posted Monday morning, Aquinnah town administrator Jeffrey Madison said.
Without saying what happened behind closed doors, Madison said the board and he support the chief. “I personally, unequivocally, without hesitation support him, end of quote,” Madison said.
Madison did not respond to repeated messages, both phone and emails, seeking comment before the initial story was published. “I think what the MV Times did was a cheap shot that you took,” he said. “I don’t think there was anything there to report.”
Hanavan has not returned repeated calls and emails to his office. When he initially dropped off the public records Wednesday, July 25, he said he would likely have no comment.
But the records raise questions about his department’s handling of the incident. Typically, a report is written on every incident a police department responds to, and the names of the reporting party and the person investigated are always included. It appears Belain was given preferential treatment by not having an official report written about the incident, which resulted in his name not being used in the subsequent report.
“If there’s an aroma, it’s around that,” said a longtime, retired off-Island police chief, who asked not to be named. The incident should have been documented, he said.
“Belain told us that he would be fine if he could just go home and go to sleep,” Habekost wrote. “I asked Belain who was at his house that could take care of him, and he told me there was no one there. I told Belain that I was not comfortable leaving him alone in the house without someone to take care of him.”
Belain called a friend in West Tisbury who said he could stay there. Officer Jeff Day drove him there. “When Ofc. Day returned to town, he reported to me that there was a man and a woman at the house that assisted Belain inside,” Habekost wrote. “When the sun came up, I called you to report this incident for your information.”
Belain said it’s common for a police department not to take someone in his condition into protective custody if someone can be found to care for the intoxicated person. Asked if roles were reversed and it was Hanavan who was drunk and inside the wrong house in Aquinnah, if his department would handle it the same way, Belain did not hesitate. “Honest answer, probably the same way,” he said. “That’s the honest answer.”
The retired chief The Times spoke with Friday said he has no issue with how the Tisbury officers handled Belain, including the ride in a cruiser to West Tisbury. “I like the part that they got him to a responsible party,” he said. They could have arrested him and let a judge sort it out, but the way they handled it was OK, the retired chief said.
In an email, Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande wrote that he has not yet received a copy of the report to review. “I learned of the incident recently, and the matter is being reviewed closely,” he wrote.
Four months removed from the incident, the homeowners — whom The Times isn’t naming because they were the victims that night — had mixed opinions about the incident.
The husband told The Times he doesn’t want to see Belain, who he described as a nice guy who made a mistake, lose his job. The Tisbury police officers were respectful and did not ask him to keep the incident quiet, he said. He said he overheard them saying it was the Aquinnah police chief.
The husband said the taxi driver is somewhat to blame for leading Belain to the backdoor of the wrong house. The driver returned the next day with Belain’s credit card, which was left in the taxi, and that’s when he found out he took Belain to the wrong address.
“That was scary,” the wife said of finding an intruder downstairs. She’s also disappointed that Belain got preferential treatment because of his job. “What if that was anyone else?” she said. The couple brought keys to the police they found outside on their back deck, next to more vomit, and were told by the officer on duty that there was “no report” from an incident at their home the night before.
It’s unclear from the police reports how Belain was reunited with his keys and his credit card.
Belain, who still lives a couple doors down, has never returned to apologize, the husband said: “He’s probably embarrassed.”
Updated to include comments from Madison after Wednesday’s executive session. – Ed.