OPINION: AG Tong will represent Groton Chief Fusaro as individual in wrongful death
There doesn’t seem to be much political appetite in Groton to address the thorny issue of the town’s police chief being accused of murder, reckless homicide or manslaughter in the 2012 death of a suicidal young man.
And yet the Connecticut Supreme Court decisively laid that issue on the town’s doorstep last month, giving a green light to a civil suit that is now slated to bring to trial Chief L.J. Fusaro and three other former State Police troopers accused of “reckless” and grossly negligent” behavior in the death of Timothy Devine.
Devine, a 30-year-old Groton paramedic, shot himself after a five-hour, non-confrontational standoff with the officers, saying “don’t make me do it,” before they fired three rounds of flash grenades and painful projectiles at him.
Clearly, Devine’s heirs say, they made him do it.
“They did this so they could end the non-threatening situation as quickly as possible and go home,” Devine’s estate wrote in one of the briefs in the lawsuit.
The shooting occurred in Groton and, strangely enough, Fusaro was later hired as the town’s police chief, even as the likely civil claim about his behavior in Devine’s death gathered as a dark cloud on the horizon.
One town councilor, a relative of Devine’s, quit over Fusaro’s hiring.
Now the whole problem has moved in as a storm front.
And what will the town do if a jury in the pending civil trial accepts the claim that Fusaro and the other State Police offices committed some form of negligent homicide?
That would not be a good look for the town. It’s bad enough the case against him is going to trial.
The Supreme Court last month rejected elaborate arguments by a team of attorneys from the office of state Attorney General William Tong who filed not one but two long briefs, dozens of pages filled with arguments that the officers were protected by immunity of the state and their official positions.
The high court, however, let stand the earlier opinion of an appeals court that also rejected the arguments of Tong’s team.
The courts have now ruled quite decisively that Devine’s suit may proceed against Fusaro and his fellow officers as individuals, not as officers acting in their official roles.
The law, Devine’s estate has successfully argued, doesn’t grant immunity in Devine’s death if the officers acted recklessly and maliciously, any more than it would protect an officer who dragged a motorist from a car and beat him to death.
Since the lawsuit is suing the former officers as individuals _ in the opinion of the highest court in the state _ I wondered why AG Tong is continuing to represent them.
After all, the state is not responsible for damages if a jury decides against the officers as individuals.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general cited statute CGS-5-141d, indemnification of state officers, for the continued representation of the plaintiffs as individuals, not acting in their official roles.
The statute does give the attorney general an out if the individuals acted wantonly or recklessly and it expressly says the AG can decline a defense if he “determines it would be appropriate to do so.”
Evidently he hasn’t.
Given the attorney general’s long string of losses in this case, despite a team of lawyers working on it, Fusaro and the other defendants might be better off hiring their own lawyers anyway.
After all, they might be facing significant settlements they will have to pay themselves.
This is the opinion of David Collins
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