Prosecutor Clears Officers In Four Separate Fatal Officer-Involved Shootings
Hartford, CT – The Hartford state’s attorney has determined that law enforcement officers were justified in using deadly force in four fatal officer-involved shooting cases that had been languishing for years.
The oldest of the cases dated back to 2008, while the most recent occurred in 2012, according to Hartford State’s Attorney Gail Hardy’s now-completed reports.
“I again wish to extend my condolences to the families of the deceased for the loss of their loved ones and my deepest apologies for the time that it has taken to complete these reports,” Hardy said in a statement, according to the Hartford Courant. “I am also publicly committing myself to the timely completion of all such investigations in the future.”
The prosecutor also apologized to the law enforcement officers involved in the cases.
“I also extend my apologies to the police officers involved in these cases who have also waited longer than they should have had to for the formal reports on these investigations,” she said.
Hardy did not explain why the cases languished for years, but did note that the Connecticut State Police (CSP) can take up to two years to complete their investigations and submit them to her, the Hartford Courant reported.
The CSP said it was not responsible for delaying Hardy’s final reports.
“We have no indication that it ever took the Connecticut State Police two years to turn over the fatal shooting investigations,” Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella’s aid, Brian Foley, told the Hartford Courant.
“That being said, often times it takes the prosecutors some time to review [the investigations] and it’s common for them to ask for additional information or investigative steps,” Foley added.
The CSP is actually required to turn over officer-involved shooting investigations to the state’s attorney within three months in most cases, Commissioner Rovella’s office said.
Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald called for an investigation into the status of the four cases after the Hartford Courant revealed in October that they had gone unresolved for years.
Twenty-seven days later, Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane suggested that Hardy not be removed from office, and recommended that she answer to the commission in a closed-door session to consider potential punitive actions.
“It is unclear why she did not complete these reports even though it may be understandable for her to have paused to handle something more urgent at a given moment,” Kane told the commission, according to the Hartford Courant.
The commission has not acted on those recommendations as of yet, and recently said they need additional information before they can proceed.
Back in October, Hardy said that she had investigated the cases enough to know that the officers’ use of deadly force was justified in each instance, but acknowledged that her formal reports in each case were not competed.
“I deal with what I have in front of me and often times there’s so much coming in that things that I started yesterday fall behind and I am dealing with what’s current,” she said at the time.
Hardy released the four reports on Dec. 20, NEPR reported.
The oldest case addressed the March 3, 2008 officer-involved shooting death of Joseph Bak.
Police were searching for Bak after he allegedly tied up his ex-girlfriend, cut her clothing off, and “violently sexually assaulted her vaginally and anally,” according to Hardy’s report.
Bak’s family members told police that he was suicidal and possibly armed with a knife or gun.
A short while later, Bak allegedly robbed a bank in West Hartford and led police on a chase in his ex-girlfriend’s stolen car.
He crashed into multiple vehicles, including a police cruiser, before he began swinging a knife at police.
“Bak brandished the knife in a threatening manner by swinging it in the direction of the Troopers as he ran,” Hardy wrote. “When stopped, he held the knife ‘like an ice pick’ and lunged toward the Trooper when the shots were fired.”
“The belief expressed by each trooper that his use of deadly physical force was necessary to defend himself or the other from the use or imminent use of deadly force by Bak was reasonable under these circumstances,” she concluded.
The second officer-involved shooting occurred on Jan. 10, 2009, after Taurean Wilson used a knife to stab a police K9 during a domestic violence investigation, according to Hardy’s report.
Wilson, who was intoxicated and had an outstanding warrant for first-degree sexual assault of a child, was fatally shot as he attempted to attack the K9’s human partner with the blade.
Despite having been stabbed twice, the K9 survived.
“Under the circumstances as presented, [the officer’s] belief that the use of deadly force was necessary was objectively reasonable and therefore justified in accordance with Connecticut General Statutes,” Hardy concluded. “The Division of Criminal Justice will take no further action in this matter.”
The third fatal altercation occurred on May 19, 2011, after police received a call from the wife of Edmanuel Reyes, according to the state’s attorney’s report.
“[The woman] reported that her husband was emotionally disturbed, armed with a gun, and that she and her two children, ages 10 and 13 years old, were hiding in the attic,” the report read.
Reyes, who had been hospitalized due to erratic behaviors and auditory and visual hallucinations in the past, opened fire on Manchester police when they arrived at the scene.
“While attempting to enter to rescue Jane Doe and her children, Officer William Beeler was shot by Reyes,” Hardy wrote.
Additional officers were pinned down by Reyes’ gunfire, and an armored vehicle was ultimately dispatched to extricate them.
“It is significant to note that during the entirety of this incident, responding officer were under intermittent gunfire from Reyes,” the state’s attorney noted. “He fired at least seventy-three rounds…one of these shots struck Officer William Beeler and six nearby houses were struck by Reyes’ gunfire.”
Minutes after the gunman released his wife and children, he went to the front door of the home “armed with both a shotgun and a semi-automatic handgun” and leaned outside, according to the report.
He gave no indication he intended to surrender.
One of the officers at the scene fired a single round, striking Reyes in the head.
“Reyes had demonstrated by virtue of both his words and conduct that he was an imminent threat to the safety of others. He demonstrated no inclination to surrender either by word or deed,” Hardy wrote. “When Reyes appeared at the front door after his family’s escape from the house, [the officer] had reason to believe Reyes would continue to fire indiscriminately upon officers in the area, as he had been doing for more than an hour, necessitating the use of deadly force by police.”
“Under the circumstances present in this case, it seems beyond dispute that any reasonable officer confronting the same scenario would have found the use of deadly force necessary to eliminate the immediate danger to others,” she concluded.
Officer Beeler survived his wounds.
The fourth officer-involved shooting occurred on July 11, 2012, after Hartford police interrupted a suspected drug exchange outside an apartment complex.
As police were checking out the potential drug stash, they suddenly spotted several males hiding inside a nearby vehicle.
Investigators later learned that the car had been stolen.
The driver, later identified as Ernesto Morales, crashed into patrol vehicles and accelerated towards two officers who were outside their cars, nearly hitting them.
Police opened fire, striking Morales and his passenger, just before Morales ran the vehicle through the wall of a nearby apartment building.
Morales, who was hit by six bullets, died at the scene. The passenger survived his wounds.
Toxicology results showed that Morales had PCP and cocaine in his system at the time of the incident.
He also had an outstanding warrant for breach of peace, as well as an extensive criminal history.
Hardy concluded that the officer who shot Morales believed that the fleeing fugitive intended to hit him with the stolen vehicle, and that he fired to protect himself from being hurt or killed.
“The actions of [the officer] are therefore justified and the Division of Criminal Justice will take no further action,” Hardy wrote.
A fifth officer-involved shooting incident, which occurred in April, is still pending with Hardy’s office, NEPR reported.
Hardy has served as the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Hartford since Aug. 1, 2007, according to the Division of Criminal Justice website.