Jason Todd walked into Friends Steakhouse in Clanton where his band was playing the final set one summer night three years ago. Tonya Anderson, his wife, stood outside in the parking lot, drunk, demanding to drive herself home. Todd told her she could not drive, and he would take her shortly after he paid his tab.
“I’m not mad at you” he repeated. Belligerent, she threatened to leave. “Fine, walk home,” said Todd, believing she would not.
Anderson began walking, as spelled out in court records and police reports, and did not make it far before being struck and killed by an oncoming vehicle.
“I loved my wife. Still do, and always will,” Todd, 42, told investigators when they accused him of causing his wife’s death, according to the lawsuit.
In an unusual turn, local police opted to charge Todd with manslaughter for the death of Anderson, 35. His alleged crime? Throwing his wife’s keys across the road, sending her on a precarious, deadly search. Todd repeatedly denied throwing his wife’s keys. There was no evidence that he did, a court later ruled.
Todd is now suing the police officer, David Hicks, whose investigation led to the manslaughter charge, in federal court. He’s also suing the restaurant and the driver in state court for his wife’s death.
Targeted by police
It was an overcast August evening in 2018 when Anderson took off walking up the multiple-lane highway in front of the restaurant. She stopped and paced back and forth across the northbound shoulder of Highway 31, holding the flashlight from her phone as if looking for something, according to an investigative report by the Clanton Police Department.
Anderson was wearing dark clothing, and the road was dimly lit. It was around midnight when a 2007 blue Dodge Charger struck her and drove on, according to that report.
“Out of concern for his wife, (Todd) decided the band would not play their last set. He did not know that his wife had actually left. He was devastated beyond words when he found out,” said Richard Jaffe, Todd’s attorney who represented him in 2019 manslaughter charges for Anderson’s death.
In the days after the tragedy, local police interrogated Todd, who, according to the lawsuit, initially believed he was being called in to help identify the driver who hit his wife. Instead, Todd learned he was the target of the investigation.
“He was continuously berated and screamed at by two different officers or detectives interrogating him, trying to guilt him into confessing to something he didn’t do,” Jaffe told AL.com. He said it would not have been physically possible for Todd to throw Anderson’s keys the distance at which they were ultimately found by police.
According to Todd’s suit against Officer Hicks, the traffic homicide investigator for the Clanton Police Department, security footage from the parking showed Todd and his wife searching together in her car for something and turning simultaneously away from one another before Todd returned to the bar.
At no point does the footage show Todd throwing Anderson’s keys, according to the suit.
Hicks, at the hearing (to dismiss the indictment) testified that the surveillance video does not show Todd throwing the keys: “I cannot say directly, conclusively if there was a throwing motion,” Hicks said in court, according to the lawsuit.
“Defendants knew or should have known that probable cause was lacking when the case was forwarded to the grand jury with Defendant Hicks’s recommendation,” the lawsuit contends.
According to the lawsuit, in a two-hour video of his interrogation by local police, Todd was forced to look at post-accident images of Anderson’s mutilated body while investigators accused him of causing her death.
“We’re telling you what happened. You got mad and threw those keys,” an investigator said to Todd, who was bereft, according to Todd’s lawsuit. “The weight of those keys being thrown is sitting on your shoulders. That’s why you can’t sleep at night. It’s eating you alive.”
The Clanton Police Department did not respond to multiple calls and online messages.
U.S. District Court Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr. in April dismissed another officer and the City of Clanton as defendants in the lawsuit leaving Hicks as the only remaining defendant in the case. The judge also dismissed all counts in the lawsuit except one count of malicious prosecution against Hicks, according to court records.
Jury Selection and the trial in Todd’s lawsuit against Hicks is set for Feb. 27, 2023.
Hicks and his attorneys did not respond to multiple requests by AL.com for comment for this story.
But Hicks filed an answer in June denying the claims in the federal lawsuit against him. He says in his answer that he is seeking different forms of immunity including all forms of Peace Officer Immunity.
Hicks also denied violating any of Todd’s constitutional rights and stated that probable cause supported his arrest. “Each and every action taken by defendant (Hicks) was taken with the good faith belief that it was legal and lawful at the time so taken,” according to Hicks’ answer to the lawsuit.
Hicks’ attorneys argued that the Chilton County Grand Jury’s decision to indict Todd negated Hicks’ alleged responsibility and “broke the chain of causation for any alleged actions or omissions of defendant.”
Piecing together the accident
Carey Roger Glenn, 66, was a regular dinner customer at Friends Steakhouse on Friday and Saturday nights. The night of the accident, he left the restaurant at about 12:20 a.m. and headed north, according to the investigative report by police.
According to the report, the day after the accident, Glenn, who is blind in his right eye, came into the restaurant and told people he thought he had hit a deer in front of the bar the night before.
According to a warrant written by Hicks, Glenn spoke of how sorry he was for hitting Anderson in the days following her death
Local police initially determined that Glenn had hit a deer, and investigators did not take samples from Glenn’s car, Todd’s lawsuit against Hicks alleges.
Months after the accident, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences confirmed that Anderson’s hair and blood were on Glenn’s car, according to the police department’s investigative report.
“In regards to Roger Glenn, he did technically commit the crime of Leaving the Scene of an Accident, however it is certain in the act the very moment this crash occurred, Roger Glenn did not comprehend nor realize what had happened, therefore his crime was not a deliberate action on his part,” Hicks wrote in an investigative report.
“In contrast to Mr. Glenn’s intentions and actions, Jason Todd was fully conscious and aware of his actions. There is no doubt or uncertainty that he deliberately and fully intentionally threw the key chain with the victim’s car key across the roadway. Any reasonable person would conclude that if that is the only key to the car, that Tonya Anderson would go wherever the key was.”
Ongoing legal battles
Todd has since filed a separate suit in state court against Friend’s Steakhouse, for allegedly serving Anderson after she was visibly intoxicated and against Glenn for failing to avoid hitting Anderson.
“It was an unfortunate accident, but Ms. Anderson was intoxicated and wearing dark clothing in the roadway that night, in a very dark area. There certainly was no criminal conduct, and there was no negligent conduct in a civil context as well,” said Murry Whitt, an attorney representing Glenn in Todd’s lawsuit against him.
“It is our position that Tanya was visible enough for Mr. Glenn to have avoided her,” said Sara Williams, Todd’s attorney in the case against Glenn and Friends Steakhouse.
The lawsuit is seeking damages from the restaurant for contributing to Todd’s loss of financial and economic support as a result of Anderson’s death.
“It’s just making sure that bars that are similarly situated to this one understand that there are going to be those that seek to hold them accountable,” said Williams of Todd’s allegations against the restaurant.
Attorneys for Friends Steakhouse declined to comment due to the pending litigation.
The case had been set for January but last month a judge granted a motion to continue it at the request of all parties who are “hopeful that they can fully resolve this matter without trial via mediation once discovery is complete.”
“I haven’t seen anything like it in 45 years of practicing law,” said Jaffe of the strangeness of the investigation and subsequent charge against Todd.
A judge quashed Todd’s indictment in June of 2020 for lack of evidence.
“In Alabama, there has to be something other than hearsay, even if it’s very little, to corroborate the hearsay. And there wasn’t.”
Update: This story was updated at 10:31 on December 16 to allow Attorney Richard Jaffe to clarify a quote