There hasn’t been much controversy over the facts of the July 24, 2012, death of Timothy Devine, whose estate claims in a still ongoing lawsuit that a state police task force, led by Louis Fusaro, now Groton Town Police Chief, rushed Devine who shot himself in the head by firing flash grenades and bullets of painful rubber projectiles at him.
A standoff occurred in the middle of the night on the waterfront at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus, where Devine, who told people he was going to kill himself, walked off alone with a gun fire.
Groton police, working from a description of Devine’s car, found him alone near the water and eventually called the State Police task force, under Fusaro’s command, who arrived with two dozen officers.
Devine never threatened to use the gun or pointed it at anyone other than himself. The police created a security barrier and no civilians were ever in danger. Police refused to let Devine speak to her family, who were at the scene, to let them try to defuse the situation.
After about five hours of stalemate, as dawn approached, Fusaro ordered the flash grenades and the first round of projectiles. After the first round, Devine pointed the gun to his head and said, “don’t make me do this.” Police fired more projectiles, according to the lawsuit. Devine eventually shot and killed himself.
“The allegations support the contention that the defendants (Fusaro and three other responding state police officers) committed murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide,” attorneys for the estate wrote. Guess in a query in the case.
“Once the defendants shot the plaintiff, they were not acting in their official capacity,” the estate’s motion continues. “They then became common criminals and are being prosecuted individually.”
This distinction between performing their official duties and acting as individuals is, in essence, the issue now before the state Supreme Court, which took up the case after an appeals panel set aside a Superior Court judge’s grant of a motion to dismiss the trial. .
The appeals panel agreed with attorneys for Devine’s estate that the sovereign immunity afforded to the state from lawsuits and the immunity available to employees performing official duties would not apply in this case, because Devine’s estate specifically says she is suing the officers individually.
Lawyers for the Devine estate further argued that police actions under Fusaro’s command went beyond official duties.
“If a State Police officer arrested a citizen for speeding and, after handcuffing him, beat him to death, he was no longer acting within the scope of his official duties. The same is true here” , they wrote in a motion. “They assaulted and killed the plaintiff’s deceased. They should be arrested for murder, manslaughter or negligent homicide. There is no immunity.”
Attorney General William Tong’s office, which represents the four officers, declined to comment on the case, saying it was pending. Neither Fusaro nor attorneys for the Devine estate returned phone messages.
Retired Groton City Manager Mark Oefinger said when he hired Fusaro – a retired state police officer – as police chief that the lawsuit filed by Devine’s estate should not not disqualify him from the position. But the decision was controversial.
Devine’s aunt, Geneviève Cerf, promptly resigned her position on the Groton City Council in protest at Fusaro’s appointment as chief.
Devine’s estate hired famed Connecticut defense attorney Hubert Santos, who died last year. His Hartford firm, Santos & LaLima, is pursuing the litigation. A memorandum of the estate is due in the Supreme Court on June 9.
The attorney general has already filed a 120-page brief, asking the court to respect the decisions of other courts invoking immunity in this case.
Devine, who was a firefighter in Groton, owned a gym and participated in numerous charity fundraisers. The lawsuit filed by his estate says he became suicidal after police told him they were investigating complaints from teenagers that he touched them inappropriately while leading their gym workouts.
Attorney Santos told a reporter in 2020, while the case was pending before the appeals committee, that the state troopers who assaulted Devine thought less of him because of the teens’ allegations. According to the lawsuit, a witness heard one of the standoff officers say that Devine shooting himself in the head would be an acceptable outcome.
“If it was a congressman, a Groton town councilman, or a successful businessman, this would never have happened,” Santos said.
Meanwhile, if the state Supreme Court agrees with the appeals panel, Groton could face the uncomfortable reality of a trial by judge or jury indicting the city’s police chief. , as the lawsuit suggests, of murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide of a city. resident.
And if the Supreme Court agrees that they are being prosecuted as individuals and not in their official capacity as police officers, will the Attorney General continue to represent them?
This is the opinion of David Collins.