Published June 18. 2013 4:00AM Updated June 18. 2013 8:11PM
Norwich - The family of 52-year-old Michael Dugas, who was fatally shot by police after calling them to a neighborhood park on Feb. 24, has notified the city they intend to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and the seven police officers involved in the shooting.
Attorney Robert I. Reardon Jr., representing Dugas' sister, April Carfi of Waterford, and two other siblings, said there is a dispute over whether Dugas had a gun in his hand when police officers fired 41 shots, striking him six times, as he stood in the park at Laurel Hill Avenue and Center Street.
The police said they attempted to communicate with Dugas for a period of time when he suddenly drew a handgun from his pocket and pointed it at them. Reardon said he interviewed several eyewitnesses to the shooting who said they didn't see a gun in Dugas' hand.
State Police told the family after the shooting that they had recovered an inoperable pellet gun at the scene, according to Reardon.
"Even if he had the gun in his hand, there certainly is a question here of whether it was necessary to fire 41 shots at him within a matter of just a few seconds," Reardon said Monday.
Reardon said Dugas had been watching NASCAR with friends that afternoon and drinking beer. He then called police in the presence of the friends to report there was a man with a gun in the park, which was a few hundreds yards away from his home at 172 Laurel Hill Ave. He said Dugas had told people that day that he was missing his wife, who died of cancer in 2003.
He said Dugas went to the park and officers surrounded Dugas and shined spotlights on him as he stood in the middle of the park.
"It is not your typical situation where an individual is waiving a gun and threatening the police," Reardon said. "This is a man who was clearly crying out for help."
Reardon said in the notice of intent to sue that Dugas "did not pose an imminent threat of death or physical injury to the officers or anybody else" and that they "failed to secure him using nonlethal force when he was not armed with a deadly weapon."
The state police Eastern District Major Crime Squad is investigating for the New London State's Attorney's office, which eventually will rule on whether the shooting was justified.
Norwich Police officers Mark Dean, Kyle Besse, Greg McDonald, Scott Meikle, Anthony Marceau, Richard Cannata and Chase Chiangi were placed on administrative leave during the initial investigation. All returned to full duty within a few weeks at the direction of the State's Attorney's office.
Police Chief Louis J. Fusaro Sr. and the city's attorney, Michael Driscoll, both said Monday that they were aware the Dugas family had filed the notice of intent to sue the city and the police, but that they could not comment because of the pending investigation. By law, a notice of intent to sue must be filed within six months of an incident.
Reardon said despite telephone and written requests, he and Dugas' family have not received "one shred" of information since early in the investigation. He said he does not know whether Dugas left a suicide note. He said Dugas' father owned the home that Dugas lived in and that the family consented to having it searched by police following the shooting.
Norwich Police had gone several years without an officer-involved shooting but four have occurred since Feb. 7, 2012. On that day, Officer Greg McDonald shot Fernando Vasquez after several officers responded to a report of a fight outside 89 Oneco St. and a struggle with officers ensued. Fernando survived and was treated at Yale-New Haven Hospital. McDonald was cleared of excessive use of force, but Driscoll, the city attorney, said the city has been notified that a lawsuit may be filed in that case as well.
On Aug. 28, 2012, Sgt. Patrick Mickens shot Gino Jermaine Nicasia outside The William W. Backus Hospital after Nicasia, who had been brought to the hospital by his mother because he was hearing voices, nearly ran over his mother and Mickens. Nicasia was treated for a gunshot wound to the right leg and committed for psychiatric care. Regan, the state's attorney, ruled last week that Mickens was justified in using deadly force in the incident.
On Jan. 7, Officer Jonathan Ley was shot four times by Jason Razzino, 30, during a Cedar Street standoff. Razzino, whose girlfriend said he had unsuccessfully sought mental health treatment, committed suicide after the hours-long standoff with police. Ley, who suffered gunshot wounds to the neck, left shoulder, left hand and right leg, is recovering and has said he intends to return to duty.
Coincidental to the shootings, retired State Trooper John G. Patterson, who worked out of the Troop E barracks in Montville for 20 years, this past weekend celebrated the release of his book, "Traumatized," on the topic of officer-involved shootings. Patterson, who shot and killed two men in the line of duty within 27 months in 1996 and 1998 - both justified - writes about the post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression he developed in the wake of the second shooting.
Patterson is sharply critical of the way management handled the incidents, from separating him from fellow officers after the shootings to putting him on desk duty during a lengthy investigation and failing to provide adequate counseling. The father of one of the men that Patterson shot brought a wrongful death lawsuit against him. While the state police provided him with a lawyer, Patterson said nobody from the agency supported him during the 2001 trial in federal court until his direct supervisor and two fellow troopers decided on their own to attend the trial. The jury acquitted Patterson.