Report of the State's Attorney for the Judicial District of Ansonia-Milford Concerning the Untimely Death of James Thieringer on January 2, 2009

July 2, 2009

The Connecticut State Police Central District Major Crime Squad, at the request of the Ansonia-Milford Office of the State’s Attorney investigated the untimely death of James Thieringer on January 2, 2009. At the time of his death, Mr. Thieringer was in the custody of the Derby Police Department for a disturbance in the River Restaurant parking lot. The State Police investigation has been reviewed by State’s Attorney Kevin Lawlor. As part of the review, State’s Attorney Lawlor has reviewed all police reports generated, all witness statements taken, examined all photos of the scene and examined the autopsy report from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The following are the findings and legal conclusions of State’s Attorney Lawlor regarding the incident.

The State Police investigation into the death of Mr. Thieringer revealed that on the night of January 2, 2009, James Thieringer left his Ansonia home at approximately 8:45 p.m. in order to purchase a new vacuum cleaner at Wal-Mart in Derby. Mr. Thieringer first proceeded to Valley Discount Wine and Liquor where he purchased a 24 oz. Smirnoff Ice alcoholic beverage and a 375 ml bottle of Barcardi Rum.

Thieringer arrived at Wal-Mart in Derby at approximately 9:13 p.m. according to surveillance camera footage from Wal-Mart. His wife states that at approximately 9:15 p.m. he called her to state that Wal-Mart does not have the vacuum cleaner and he was proceeding to Target. Video surveillance captured Thieringer leaving the store and entering his Honda Pilot SUV. Surveillance also captured his SUV being cut in front of by another vehicle as he exited the parking space. Thieringer’s SUV was then seen on camera closely following the other vehicle thru the parking lot.

The first confrontation that required police intervention happened next. Mr. Thieringer followed the above referenced vehicle until it parked in the lot near the River Restaurant. According to several eyewitnesses, Mr. Thieringer confronted the occupant of the vehicle, later identified as Roger Diagle.  Daigle and his friend Christopher Lynn attempted to calm Mr. Thieringer down but were unsuccessful.  Thieringer berated Mr. Daigle for cutting him off and stated “I don’t get mad, I get even, I get revenge.” He then left the lot at a high rate of speed nearly hitting Mr. Lynn’s girlfriend Katie Ebert. At 9:25 p.m., Christopher Lynn called the Derby Police Department regarding the incident and a possibly intoxicated driver. At 9:28 p.m. Derby Police Officer Mike Baldo arrived in the parking lot and could not locate the vehicle. He cleared the call minutes later.

According to time stamped cash register receipts retrieved from the deceased and surveillance video, the deceased left the parking lot and traveled to Target in Ansonia where he purchased a vacuum cleaner at 9:43 p.m. He then traveled to the Love Shack on Route 34 in Derby . He is the seen returning to the parking lot at the River Restaurant at 9:56 p.m. At that time, the owner of the River Restaurant, Rick Lucarelli called the Derby Police to inform them of SUV’s return. He requested a police response. Officer Baldo by this time had returned to Headquarters and took the call. Officer Baldo then received an unrelated call for assistance which lasted 6:34 after which he proceeded to the River Restaurant.  He arrived according to radio transmissions at 10:10 p.m.

Numerous eyewitness statements document the following occurred when Mr. Thieringer arrived back in the parking lot for the second time at approximately 9:56 p.m.:

Mr. Thieringer parked his SUV in a spot next to the vehicle operated by Roger Daigle. Mr. Daigle, Mr. Lynn, Mr. Lucarelli and Ms. Ebert were still inside the restaurant and observed Thieringer return to the lot. Several patrons of the restaurant overheard Mr. Lucarelli state he would go out to Mr. Daigle’s car and pull it around back in order to avoid a confrontation. Mr. Lucarelli left the restaurant with the keys and was immediately confronted by Mr. Thieringer. Eleven separate eyewitnesses state Mr. Thieringer exited his SUV holding a long yellow object identified by some as a bat, by others as a pipe or axe handle. The item was recovered and is an axe handle. Mr. Thieringer swung the axe handle two times at Mr. Lucarelli who avoided being hit and pushed Mr. Thieringer to the ground.

Once Mr. Thieringer was on the ground, he was subdued by Mr. Lucarelli and two other patrons of the restaurant. They restrained him for several minutes until Officer Baldo, who had just arrived, could place him in handcuffs face down in the parking lot. Approximately two minutes after placing him in custody, officers began to see signs of Thieringer’s medical distress. According to radio transmissions, Officer Baldo indicated the suspect was in custody at 10:12 p.m. and an ambulance request came in at 10:14. The ambulance arrived at 10:22. During that period, several witnesses observed officers attempting CPR on the suspect. CPR was continued by ambulance personnel once they arrived. Mr. Thieringer was transported to Yale-New Haven Hospital and was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival. A subsequent search of the suspect’s car found it to contain a small amount of marijuana and empty liquor bottles matching the receipt for those bought by the suspect earlier that evening at Valley Discount Wine and Liquor. Several other empty liquor bottles were also found in the vehicle.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy on Mr. Thieringer. They observed no trauma to his body other than superficial scraping of both knees. The cause of death was cardiomyopathy and an enlarged heart, found to be two times the normal adult size. The manner of death was “natural”. The toxicology report revealed the presence of alcohol, measured at 0.17%. That concentration is more than double the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle.

The Connecticut State Police made the following conclusions which State’s Attorney Lawlor also endorses:

  1. Officer Baldo responded to 656 New Haven Avenue, the parking lot of the River Restaurant in Derby for a report of erratic operation, attributable to James Thieringer. This complaint was initiated by Christopher Lynn.
  2. Officer Baldo responded a second time to 656 New Haven Avenue , the parking lot of the River Restaurant in Derby for a report that the vehicle operating erratically (Thieringer) called in earlier had returned. This complaint was initiated by Rick Lucarelli.
  3. Thieringer’s behavior was threatening as he displayed a yellow axe handle as if it was a weapon, and subsequently used the axe handle as a weapon and swung it at Lucarelli.  Lucarelli took action to avoid being hit by Thieringer and was subsequently assisted by Christopher Lynn and Louis Nistico.
  4. The second call made from the River Restaurant was made at 9:56:07 p.m. and answered by Officer Baldo who was at Police Headquarters. Officer Baldo had returned to H.Q. to temporarily relieve the evening shift desk supervisor. After receiving this call, Officer Baldo received an unrelated call for assistance lasting 6:34. He then responded to the River Restaurant at the conclusion of the unrelated call.
  5. Officer Baldo arrived at the scene and observed three individuals on the ground struggling.  Baldo attempted to handcuff Thieringer who continued to struggle with the officer.  Eventually he was placed in custody using two sets of handcuffs due to his large size, 5’8”, 360 lbs.
  6. After it was determined he was in medical distress, medical treatment was requested within two minutes of his apprehension and was provided by on scene personnel until the arrival of the ambulance. He was treated until being declared deceased at the hospital.
  7. The cause of death was ruled “Cardiomyopathy” and manner of death was ruled “Natural” by the O.C.M.E.

The applicable law in this case can be found at Connecticut General Statutes section 53a-22. Use of physical force in making arrest or preventing escape. (b) A peace officer is justified in using physical force upon another person to the extent he or she believes is reasonably necessary to (1) effect an arrest… of a person he reasonably believes to have committed an offense…; or (2) defend himself or herself or a third person from the use or imminent use of physical force while effecting…an arrest. And:

(f) A private person acting on his or her own account is justified in using physical force upon another person to the extent he or she believes is reasonably necessary to effect an arrest …of a person he reasonably believes to have committed an offense and who in fact has committed such offense.

Based on the findings of fact outlined above and the applicable law, State’s Attorney Lawlor finds Officer Baldo’s use of force in the apprehension of Mr. Thieringer was reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances. He further finds that the actions of Rick Lucarelli, Christopher Lynn and Louis Nistico were also reasonable and appropriate given Mr. Thieringer’s hostile demeanor and violent actions with the axe handle.

Finally, State’s Attorney Lawlor thanks the Connecticut State Police for their thorough investigation of this matter, Chief Mascolo and the officers of the Derby Police Department for their initial investigation and cooperation, and the assistance of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. This Office also wishes to thank all these agencies for working together to assure that the investigation was concluded in a timely, thorough and complete manner.