City reaches financial settlement with survivors of 2003 shooting victim

New London - The city has agreed to pay an undisclosed sum of money to the survivors of shooting victim David Romero to resolve a wrongful death/negligence lawsuit involving the city police department's response to a 2003 domestic violence case.

A related civil rights lawsuit that plaintiff's attorney Robert I. Reardon Jr. filed after police Chief Margaret Ackley inquired about Romero's immigration status on Jan. 26 was also withdrawn after the federal government provided assurances that it would take steps to prevent Romero's sister, Marta Paguada, from being deported.

The wrongful death claim, brought by Romero's girlfriend, Ayfer Kaya, and his sister, Paguada, had alleged that police failed to respond properly to escalating domestic violence incidents involving Kaya and her ex-husband, Kurtulus Kalican.

The jealous former spouse critically injured Kaya and killed Romero, a Honduran native, when he entered Kaya's home on Blackhall Street on Sept. 22, 2003, and opened fire with a .357 magnum that police had failed to confiscate despite a court order that prohibited Kalican from possessing a gun.

Also, Kalican had called police on the night of the shooting to report that Romero was in his wife's house, which he still owned, and that he wanted him removed. The police dispatcher told Kalican it was a civil matter and to call his attorney in the morning.

Jury selection was under way in New London Superior Court last month when the parties in the wrongful death lawsuit entered into mediation with Judge Robert L. Holzberg in Middletown.

Around the same time, the plaintiffs moved for a mistrial and filed the federal lawsuit after learning that the police chief, working with attorneys for the city's insurance company, had called immigration officials about Romero's status.

The city, claiming Romero was in the United States illegally, was preparing to offer testimony that his immigration status could diminish by $1 million the plaintiff's claim of economic damages.

"It took literally several weeks of negotiations to bring about a complete resolution of the entire case," said Reardon. "This was after we spent nearly four weeks selecting a jury. Halfway through that, we began negotiations with Judge Holzberg and continued with the U.S. Attorney's office."

Reardon said the settlement amount fairly compensates Kaya for her injuries and Romero's estate for the loss of his life.

"I can tell you my clients are very pleased with the settlement," Reardon said. "They finally, after years and years of litigation, obtained justice."

City Attorney Brian Estep issued a press release through the mayor's office confirming that the financial terms of the wrongful death settlement are confidential and that Paguada agreed to withdraw the federal civil rights case "without prejudice."

"The dismissal of the federal case is with no payment of compensation, fees or costs by the City or the Chief," the statement reads.

Reardon said Romero and Paguada came to the United States 12 years ago from a poor region of Honduras. Romero, who was in his 30s, was working for an East Lyme insulation company at the time of his death and was "highly thought of," according to Reardon.

"The owner indicated he had letters from customers praising him as being courteous and hard-working," Reardon said.

Paguada lives in New London and works for a Deep River company, Reardon said. She is an active church member and has a son who attends Jennings Elementary School. "She has been a good citizen in every respect," he said.

Reardon said he believes the city improperly brought up the immigration issue at the last moment in an effort to intimidate Paguada, the administrator of the estate, and persuade her to settle for less money. The government has taken no action to remove Paguada from the country but has agreed to stipulate to a "cancellation of removal" and appear before an immigration judge on Paguada's behalf if the need arises.

Reardon said that once the case was resolved, he asked Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio to hold a press conference pledging his support for Paguada's remaining in the city.

One of the mayor's first official acts, upon being sworn into office in December 2011, was to issue an executive order directing police not to inquire into a person's immigration status or take measures against a suspected illegal alien or refugee unless a possible violation of federal immigration law is being investigated.

Reardon said Finizio agreed to hold the press conference only if Paguada would send a letter apologizing for suing the city. Finizio's executive assistant, Zak Leavy, said that Finizio would not be commenting about the wrongful death or civil rights cases.

k.florin@theday.com

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