Review finds Montville officer was justified in fatal shooting

Investigators from the Connecticut State Police Major Crime Squad collect evidence at the scene of a shooting involving a Montville police officer and a suspect at the Chesterfield Lodge located at 1596 Hartford-New London Turnpike in Oakdale, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. The officer was injured and the male suspect was shot. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Investigators from the Connecticut State Police Major Crime Squad collect evidence at the scene of a shooting involving a Montville police officer and a suspect at the Chesterfield Lodge located at 1596 Hartford-New London Turnpike in Oakdale, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. The officer was injured and the male suspect was shot. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Montville — A town police officer was justified when she used deadly force on a man who had taken her Taser and repeatedly struck her with it, the State's Attorney for the Windham Judicial District announced in a Monday report.

The lengthy report stems from a Jan. 29, 2017, incident at the Chesterfield Lodge on Route 85. The owner had called police because a man who owed $250 was refusing to pay.

The review identifies officers Robin Salvatore and Gregg Jacobson as the two who responded to the afternoon scene. Val Thomas, 53, is the man Salvatore shot and killed.

When they arrived at the hotel about 2:30 p.m., the officers explained why they were there and asked Thomas to either pay for his room or leave the lodge. From interviews and video footage, the state’s attorney determined Thomas initially turned toward his room, but then turned back around and lunged at Salvatore, taking her Taser.

The two officers scattered toward the parking lot, with Thomas first pointing and firing the Taser at Jacobson before chasing after Salvatore.

In an interview, Salvatore told investigators Thomas had yelled, “I’m going to kill you, you f---ing cop,” as he ran toward her.

In footage from the lodge, Thomas can be seen repeatedly striking Salvatore in the head. Only after several strikes does she fire her duty pistol once, hitting Thomas in the abdomen.

A trooper who responded as backup applied gauze to Thomas’ wound, after which Thomas can be seen rolling around despite being told to stay still. Thomas, who was transported to The William W. Backus Hospital, also was uncooperative in the ambulance, the report states.

Crews took Salvatore, who was bleeding from the head, to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London, where she was treated and released. Thomas went into cardiac arrest on the way to Backus Hospital and was pronounced dead at 3:39 p.m. An autopsy later determined the gunshot wound caused Thomas’ death, which was ruled a homicide.

In Connecticut, fatal police shootings or other police “use-of-force” deaths are handled by prosecutors from a judicial district outside the one where the death occurred.

In her review, Windham Judicial District State’s Attorney Anne F. Mahoney pointed out that Thomas had a lengthy criminal history that began in 1984 and included assault convictions. She noted that many friends and acquaintances described having had “pleasant past interactions that eventually gave way to difficulties and disagreements and ended with breaking off all ties with Mr. Thomas.”

She also noted that police found writings in Thomas’ room that suggested he believed he was God and that government agents wanted to murder him.

The goal of the review was to determine not whether it was necessary for Salvatore to use deadly force, but whether she believed it was necessary at the time.

“Since Mr. Thomas repeatedly struck her in the head with a blunt object that could have caused death or serious physical injury and stated that he intended to kill her, Officer Salvatore was justified in the use of deadly physical force,” the review states.

Both Jacobson and Salvatore — a 28-year veteran of the department who used to head the local police union — had been asked to do clerical work pending the outcome of the state’s attorney’s investigation.

“The death of Mr. Val Thomas was a tragedy,” the review concludes. “The State’s Attorney extends her condolences to his family.”

l.boyle@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version has been updated to reflect that Robin Salvatore no longer heads up the local police union.

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