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.