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    Thursday, July 25, 2024

    Police use red flag law to seize ammunition stored on state property in Mystic

    Aaron Stanislav, 32, was charged on Nov. 1, 2023 by Groton Town police with illegal possession of ammunition and possession of a high capacity magazine. (Photo courtesy of Connecticut Department of Correction.)

    Groton ― A Groton man with military training and a recent history of mental illness kept a stash of ammunition, body armor and other tactical gear hidden on the grounds of the vacant state-owned Oral School property in Mystic, police say.

    The alleged owner of the gear, 32-year-old Aaron C. Stanislav of 134 Cow Hill Road in Mystic had the ammunition seized by Groton Town police and is temporarily barred from possessing or buying any guns under the state’s so-called “red flag” law.

    Arrested on Nov. 1, Stanislav remains held in lieu of $300,100 in combined bonds and under a suicide watch, court records show.

    The seizure by Groton Town police was typical of the type of cases on the rise in Connecticut, where police are applying for what are known as risk protection orders and the temporary confiscation of guns at a rapidly rising rate since changes to the law went into effect in 2022.

    The state’s red flag law has been around since 1999 ― the first of its kind ― and enacted in the wake of a shooting at the Connecticut Lottery headquarters in 1998. It wasn’t until the new changes streamlined the application process, however, that the number of confiscations or applications for gun seizures surged.

    There have been 2,045 risk protection orders filed so far in 2023, up from about 850 in all of 2022, and 224 risk warrants for gun confiscations filed in 2021, which was before changes to the law were enacted, statistics provided by the state Judicial Department show.

    Police became aware of the cache of ammunition on the grounds of the Oral School thanks to an Oct. 28 call from a concerned neighbor of Stanislav. The call came three days after an Army reservist with a history of mental health issues on Oct. 25 went on a shooting rampage in Lewiston, Maine, killing 18 people. The killings in Maine has brought renewed interest in red flag laws as a way to prevent mass shootings.

    Maine has what is known as a “yellow flag” law, a variation of a red flag law that allows law enforcement to seize weapons from an individual deemed to be a danger. It differs from red flag laws because it requires the extra step of having a medical professional perform an evaluation of the individual with a gun.

    In Connecticut, law enforcement officials say the red flag law has most often been used in domestic violence cases or encounters with individuals with mental illness who might be a danger to themselves or others.

    There is no evidence in court documents that indicates Stanislav ever made threats, and no guns have been found. Police said they continue to investigate but have already searched Stanislav’s home and vehicle pursuant to the risk protection order. Police said they have also spoken with his family and searched the area where the cache of ammunition was found, using a K9 team to aid in the search.

    Groton Town Police Chief Louis J. Fusaro Jr. issued a public service announcement on Oct. 26, a day after the mass shooting in Maine, with explanation of the state red flag laws, which includes recent updates passed by the legislature in 2022 to create risk protection orders, the means by which the court can restrict someone from possessing weapons. An order from the court will also flag an individual on a national database to make them ineligible to purchase a firearm while the order is in effect.

    A risk to self or others

    Under changes to the law in 2022, police are no longer the only one who can apply to restrict an individual’s access to firearms. Family, household members, intimate partners, people with a child in common and medical professionals can apply directly to the Superior Court for a risk protection order investigation if they have reason to believe someone poses a risk to themselves or others.

    Fusaro, who is chairman of the legislative committee of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said he thinks the law is likely preventing violence and suicides.

    “When there is an acute problem that necessitates our involvement, it may be too late. The whole intent of the law is to prevent the problem before it occurs. I think (it’s) getting out in front of the problem,” Fusaro said of the red flag law. “In many cases when we get that 911 call or request to meet with somebody, it may have gotten to the point where the opportunity for violence is higher. ”

    Avon Police Chief Paul Melanson, president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said the changes to the state’s red flag law and creation of the risk protection orders were aimed at addressing the mental health issues departments nationwide are dealing with.

    “I think it is working, but how do you know how many you prevented? That’s the difficult part,” Melanson said. “Every police department has embraced this. If someone is threatening to kill other people or themselves or having a mental health crisis, then we don’t want them to have a weapon.”

    A study conducted by researchers at Yale, Duke and the University of Connecticut found that from 1999 to 2013, the state’s original version of the red flag law prevented dozens of suicides, or at least one suicide for every 10-20 gun seizures.

    Advocates of the changes to the law, specifically the provision of the law that allows someone other than law enforcement to notify the courts of a potential issue, argue more suicides are likely to be prevented in the future.

    The National Association of Social Workers Connecticut Chapter, in written testimony submitted to the legislature in 2021, wrote that it believes “the additions and modifications will only make our state and residents safer.”

    Melanson said police previously would file an application when there was an arrest, many times as the result of a domestic violence call. With changes to the law in 2022, the orders are automatic in many cases.

    “It’s been a substantial increase in workload and volume for police departments for sure,” Melanson said., “The reality is we want people to get help. This just makes sure that during that time you remove the ability to get a handgun.”

    Technical changes to the law were made earlier this year with input from law enforcement agencies.. Melanson said police departments were being forced to file an application for people who don’t have guns or were already restricted from having firearms.

    Earlier police contacts

    When neighbors of Stanislav contacted police on Oct. 28 with their concerns, it was not the police department’s first encounter with him.

    Police, in an arrest warrant affidavit, report “numerous calls for service where concerns of his mental health have been a factor including an incident on 05/27/2023, where officers had to use force to restrain Stanislav and transport him to the hospital for a mental health evaluation.”

    Stanislav was transported to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital for an emergency evaluation or a “police Request of Emergency Evaluation.” Stanislav had damaged his vehicle by keying the sides of the car, which to police was considered ‘destructive behavior.”

    Stanislav was living with his mother at the time of the discovery, about a quarter mile from the Oral School property. Neighbors told police that Stanislav had revealed to them he had hidden body armor and ammunition in a cart somewhere on the Oral School property, a 77-acre parcel of land that includes several abandoned buildings.

    The neighbor had been walking his dogs on the property and found the cache of neatly stacked totes covered with a brown tarp. The neighbor walked with police to the area, where police noticed the tire marks leading to tall grass near a former Oral School recreation building that housed a swimming pool.

    The brown and green tarp was found near a pile of junk metal. Beneath it, police said they found a tan canvas and leather luggage travel case with sketch books with the name Aaron Stanislav written inside accompanied by calligraphy pens and erasers There were also several personal documents, one of which was military discharge papers indicating Stanislav was honorably discharged from the Marines as a heavy artillery man.

    There were eight 20-round boxes of rifle ammunition, two 50-round boxes of 9 mm ammunition, a half-filled box of Hornady Critical Duty 9 mm ammunition and two miscellaneous boxes of ammunition with rounds missing.

    There was also a bag with four 30-round rifle magazines that could be accepted into an AR-style rifle and a 10-round single stack rifle magazine. In a separate tote bag there was a Kevlar helmet labeled with Stanislav’s name and a body armor vest with patches labeled Stanislav. The vest had a tool pouch with rope and a flashlight inside.

    Police said they also found a duty belt with a knife, U.S. Marine Corps training manuals and field guide books with notes describing weapons trajectory patterns and damage areas.

    Stanislav said little during his appearance in New London Superior Court on Tuesday, where he was brought into the courtroom shackled, flanked by two judicial marshals and allowed to sit before Judge Patrick Caruso. Judge Caruso ordered Stanislav to undergo a competency evaluation to determine if he understands the court proceedings and can aid in his own defense.

    Stanislav has two pending criminal cases in Massachusetts, where he used to live and had been arrested by Arlington, Mass., police on multiple counts of violation of abuse prevention orders, typically filed in domestic abuse cases. A protective order was issued by the Massachusetts courts on March 3 prohibiting Stanislav from possessing ammunition, guns or dangerous weapons. Stanislav is being held as a fugitive from justice in that case, and there is a pending extradition to Massachusetts to face those charges.

    Further details of the Massachusetts cases were not immediately available, but police said Stanislav has no guns registered in his name and does not have a permit for any type of weapons in Massachusetts or Connecticut. Connecticut law bars an individual from purchasing ammunition without a permit.

    If he does own a gun, police said, Stanislav’s mother told police it might be with a relative in Texas, where Stanislav used to live. She declined to comment when contacted by phone.

    Stanislav is represented by Public Defender Sean Kelly in a case being prosecuted by Assistant State’s Attorney Alexandra Aksterowicz. Judge Caruso has found, based on evidence provided by police, that Stanislav had posed an “immediate risk of injury to himself or others,” and ordered Stanslav to remain on a “risk protection registry” for at least six months, until May 8, 2024, when Stanislav can apply for removal from the registry that bars him from possessing guns.

    He is due back in court on Dec. 27.

    g.smith@theday.com

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