Published April 15. 2014 4:00PM Updated April 16. 2014 12:19AM
New London State's Attorney Michael L. Regan has ruled that the use of deadly force by seven Norwich police officers last year in the fatal shooting of a Norwich man was justified and “appropriate” — clearing the officers of any criminal wrongdoing.
Regan issued his conclusions Tuesday following an investigation into the Feb. 24, 2013, shooting of 52-year-old Michael Dugas in a small park off Laurel Hill Avenue in Norwich. Dugas was shot six times by officers who were among those who responded to a 911 call for a report of a man with a gun.
The 7:18 p.m. call, as it turns out, was placed by Dugas following a day of drinking, according to witnesses interviewed by state police detectives. After placing the 911 call, Dugas’ neighbor said he repeatedly told her “I love you,” before leaving the apartment building and walking toward the green where he was shot.
Dugas was spotted by police pacing in the middle of the park with his hands in his sweatshirt pockets. Officers took cover in different positions around the park, pointed a spotlight at Dugas and at times tried to talk to him — eventually shouting to him to show his hands.
When Officer Greg McDonald offered to come over to his side of the fence and talk, Dugas responded, “No, don’t, it won’t do any good,” according to Regan’s report.
When K-9 Officer Scott Meikle ordered Dugas to lie on the ground, warning that he would release his dog, Dugas pulled out a black handgun and pointed it to Meikle, according to the report.
Officers yelled, “Drop the gun,” before they fired a total of 41 rounds. Dugas was struck by bullets six times, according to the medical examiner’s report.
The revolver Dugas had held was a full-sized CO2-powered Daisy Powerline Model 44 pellet gun, a replica of a Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44-caliber revolver, according to Regan’s report. Several witnesses said Dugas had fired the gun. But detectives found no pellets loaded in the revolving cylinder and concluded it was “impossible to determine if the revolver had been loaded with pellets,” according to the report.
The medical examiner’s office later determined Dugas’ blood alcohol level was 0.27. Dugas’ stepfather, Larry Ewoldt Jr., the owner of the 172 Laurel Ave. apartment where Dugas was living, told police Dugas had a history of alcohol abuse and depression.
“Michael in the past had told his family that he wanted to commit suicide by jumping into the river. The river is the area where in 2003 Michael left his late wife’s ashes after she had died of brain cancer,” Ewoldt is quoted as saying in the report.
A neighbor told police Dugas had talked about walking out into traffic a few days earlier and “had talked in the past about hanging himself from the second floor apartment neighbor’s tree,” according to the report.
Ewoldt also told police Dugas has been “forcibly committed” to a hospital at least once over the past several years.
In his report, Regan said that state law permits an officer to use deadly force “when he reasonably believes such to be necessary to defend himself or a third person from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force.”
Regan cites a U.S. Supreme Court case explaining that the reasonableness of a particular use of force “must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on scene rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight,” and allow for “the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions — in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.”
Norwich Police Chief Louis J. Fusaro said Regan’s report outlines the reasons why, in his opinion, officers had little choice but to use deadly force.
“The incident was a tragedy for not only Mr. Dugas but for his family and certainly our officers,” Fusaro said.
The shooting remains the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the city and seven officers by Dugas’ family.
The officers involved in the shooting were McDonald, Meikle, Mark Dean, Kyle Besse, Anthony Marceau, Richard Cannata and Chase Chiangi. All except for Marceau used Smith & Wesson M&P .40 caliber handguns. Marceau fired his duty rifle, a DPMS Panther Arms .223-caliber rifle.