Ex-NL officer won't be prosecuted for 2011 shooting

New London - The state's attorney's office will not prosecute a city police officer who shot an unarmed suspect last August after the suspect allegedly stole an ice truck.

New London State's Attorney Michael L. Regan released his findings Friday in the Aug. 24 incident in which Officer Thomas Northup shot Curtis Cunningham.

"It is the conclusion of the undersigned that we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime occurred,'' Regan wrote in his report. "Accordingly, no further action will be taken by the Division of Criminal Justice."

According to the report, Northup discharged his weapon five times, hitting Cunningham four times - once in each arm and twice in the lower back. Cunningham was shot while standing in the overturned cab of the ice truck after allegedly stealing the truck and crashing it at the intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Bank Street.

Northup told the state investigator that he believed Cunningham had a weapon when he saw Cunningham turn toward him "with his shirt protruding in an outline that Officer Northup believed could have been a gun." Northup yelled for Cunningham to "drop the weapon," but Cunningham continued turning toward the officer with both hands concealed under his shirt, the report states.

Cunningham tested positive for PCP after being taken to the hospital, and he admitted to medical personnel that he had "a long history of using PCP and other illegal street drugs,'' according to the report.

Cunningham, who was 27 at the time of the shooting, is now paralyzed. He has filed a lawsuit against the city and Northup.

Northup, who had been with the department for four years, was fired from the police department March 22 after an internal report determined he had violated department policy on use of excessive and unreasonable force. It was determined Northup made a premature and unauthorized decision to use deadly force.

Cunningham's attorney, Joel Faxon, said Friday the family was disappointed in the decision not to criminally charge Northup "because we feel there was impropriety." The civil case, Faxon said, remains "solid."

"(The decision) has no effect on our civil case because the New London internal affairs division has already determined that Northup's shooting was unauthorized and an excessive use of force, so that solidly supports our civil case," Faxon said.

The state's attorney's report says the state would be unable "to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Thomas Northup honestly believed that deadly force was necessary and that his honest belief was reasonable."

The report also explains that Northup's firing does not necessarily conflict with the findings of the state's attorney's office.

"The focus of my inquiry was whether Officer Northup's actions violated criminal laws of the state of Connecticut and not whether he violated policies of the New London Police Department,'' Regan wrote.

"The test is not whether it was in fact necessary for the officer to use deadly physical force in order to defend against imminent use of deadly physical force. The test is whether the officer believed it was necessary ...'' Regan wrote.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio focused Friday on the portion of the report that explained the difference between violating state law and department policy.

"That is exactly what we said from the beginning,'' Finizio said. "The determination of whether someone committed a crime is a very high standard to reach."

He said Northup was fired because he violated the policies of the police department.

The report also notes that the inquiry was "unduly delayed" because attorneys for the police union would not allow investigators to interview police witnesses on the date of the shooting.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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