19 Jan. – The Connecticut Supreme Court issued a decision on Wednesday allowing a wrongful death lawsuit brought against four former state police officers by the family of a Groton man who committed suicide to proceed.
The Supreme Court, in a brief written decision, rejected the appeal of the Connecticut Attorney General, representing the four troopers, to reverse the most recent decision of the Court of Appeals that had referred the case back to trial. The court did not address the appeal, instead saying “the appeal must be dismissed on the grounds that the certification was granted recklessly”, meaning that the court should not have accepted the case.
The lawsuit filed in 2014 by Timothy Devine’s estate alleges that state troopers used “intentional, reckless or grossly negligent conduct” and provoked a suicidal 30-year-old Devine to shoot himself on July 24, 2012 during a standoff at the campus of the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus in Groton.
The lawsuit alleges that four former state troopers – Louis “LJ” Fusaro Jr., Steven Rief, Michael Avery and Kevin Cook – used excessive force, in effect “causing” Devine’s death when they fired several rounds of rubber projectiles at him while holding him down. a gun and threatens to shoot himself. The four troopers were members of a state police tactical team. Fusaro is now the Chief of Police for Groton Town.
Devine, who was carrying a suicide note, was wanted by police for questioning after several teenage boys alleged that Devine had touched them in a sexually inappropriate manner. Devine, who was a firefighter with the Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department and at the time the owner of a Crossfit gym in Groton City, had told police a day before his suicide that he would not be coming in for questioning and would shoot himself instead.
Judges in both state and federal courts had dismissed the case, ruling that the suit against the troopers was “barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity” due to their role as state troopers and state employees. However, the dismissal was eventually reversed by the Court of Appeals, which ruled that the lawsuit was brought against the troopers in their individual capacity and not the state.
Trent LaLima, an attorney at the law firm of Santos & LaLima, represents the estate of Timothy Devine and argued the case in November in the state Supreme Court. He said the court’s dismissal was essentially a decision not to rule and is sending the case back to New London Superior Court for further motions and possibly a trial.
The state needed the Supreme Court to reverse the Court of Appeals decision to dismiss the case.
“Basically, they decided they didn’t have to interfere with the appeals court ruling,” LaLima said. “We will go back to court and take up the case which is still in its early stages.”
LaLima said she was pleased and not surprised by the ruling because “we always thought this was an appropriate case to proceed at the litigation level.”
A representative of the attorney general’s office declined to comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit.