Report of the State's Attorney for the Judicial District of Fairfield Concerning the Shooting Death of Ronald Wagner in Stratford on November 20, 2004
Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes 51-277a the undersigned State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Fairfield has conducted an investigation into the death by gunshot of Ronald Wagner, DOB 1/24/67 of Bridgeport, which occurred on November 20, 2004, on the property located at 315 Wilbur Street, Stratford, Connecticut.
Connecticut General Statutes 51-227a requires the prosecuting authority to conduct an investigation whenever a peace officer, in the performance of his duties, uses deadly physical force upon another person and such person dies. Such investigation is conducted for the limited purpose of determining whether the use of deadly physical force was appropriate under section 53a-22, which limits the use of deadly physical force by a peace officer to situations where he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to "(1)Defend himself or third person from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force; or (2) effect an arrest or prevent the escape from custody of a person whom he reasonably believes has committed or attempted to commit a felony which involved the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical injury and if, where feasible, he has given warning of his intent to use deadly physical force." (Connecticut General Statutes Section 53a-22(c)(1),(2)
Scope of the Investigation
Inspectors from the Office of the State’s Attorney for Fairfield County were notified immediately upon the death of Mr. Wagner in accordance with previously established policy. Within 30 minutes, Inspector Kevin Aylward arrived at 315 Wilbar Street and provided oversight of the initial investigation by the Stratford Police Department. Upon notification of the Connecticut State Police by members of the Stratford Police Department, the Central District Major Crime Squad was assigned to conduct an independent investigation and personnel began arriving at the scene at approximately 7:20 AM. Major Crime Squad personnel processed the scene, canvassed the neighborhood and interviewed witnesses until 7:30 PM. This office has continued to monitor the investigation and has conducted a review of all reports generated and all statements taken by the Stratford Police Department Police Department, the Connecticut State Police, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and the State of Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory.
On Saturday, November 20, 2004, at approximately 3:15 AM, Frances Wellner called the Stratford Police Department via her cell phone to complain that Ronald Wagner, her former fiancé had entered her home at 315 Wilbar Street without her permission and was refusing to leave. In response to this call, several cars were dispatched to 315 Wilbur Street. Upon their arrival police initially checked the registration of a van parked in the driveway and discovered that it was registered to the complainant, Frances Wellner. Officer Jeffrey Nattrass, one of the first officers to respond proceeded to the front door and attempted to open it but discovered that it was locked. Officer Shaun Martinez, took a position in front of the house from which he was able to observe the interior through a picture window. As Officer Nattrass was at the front door, Officer Martinez alerted the other officers that he was able to see a man, later identified as Ronald Wellner, approaching the door, holding what appeared to be a rifle. Officers Steedley and Martinez immediately took cover behind nearby vehicles. Officer Nattrass took cover behind his police cruiser which was parked in the street directly in front of the house approximately 56 feet from the front door. At about this time, several additional Stratford police officers arrived on the scene including Lt. Ronald Jersey who drove his car onto the lawn before exiting and taking a position behind some hedges against the house, approximately 15 feet to the left of the front door. At this time, Mr Wagner was seen tearing down the curtains from the picture window through which the police had initially observed him. Lt. Jersey through his police radio contacted the dispatcher and gave instructions for Sgt. David Burs to call the house and speak with Mr. Wagner in order to persuade him to put down the weapon and to exit the house. Although Burs was able to make contact with Mr. Wagner, Wagner became angry and hung up the phone, refusing to answer any subsequent calls from Sgt. Burs. Police observed Mr. Wagner pacing back and forth inside the house and appear to become increasingly agitated. On several occasions, he pointed the weapon at the police and yelled profanities at them from inside the house. Police on the scene made multiple attempts to convince him to put his gun down by repeatedly reassuring him that they meant him no harm and that they wished to resolve the matter peacefully.
Mr. Wagner then opened the front door and challenged the officers to put down their weapons and to come and get him. Police continued to attempt to convince him to put down the gun and to assure him that no one would get hurt. Mr. Wagner responded that "tonight’s a good night to die. I’m not afraid to die, are you afraid to die?", and then retreated back into the house. Officers were able to see him again pacing back and forth inside the house. Officers continued to try to engage him verbally but Mr. Wagner did not respond to them.
Through the front picture window, Officer Nattrass saw Mr. Wagner take a final drag of his cigarette before throwing it on the floor. He then quickly exited through the front door of the house and stood on the concrete porch. Wagner turned towards Lt. Jersey who was standing to his right and continued to ignore warnings to drop the gun. Lt. Jersey aimed his duty pistol at Wagner and activated a laser site which projected a clearly visible red dot on his chest. Wagner, while holding the gun in his right hand announced to Jersey, "O.K. This is it. One...Two...Three!", while indicating the count with the fingers of his left hand. Wagner then grabbed the gun with both hands, jumped off the porch and headed away from Lt. Jersey and towards Officer Nattrass, raising the weapon. Lt. Jersey, believing that Wagner was about to shoot Officer Nattrass, fired one shot from his pistol, striking Mr. Wagner in the left upper back. Immediately after Lt. Jersey fired, Officer Nattrass also fired one shot which missed Wagner and struck the house behind him. Mr. Wagner was taken emergently to Bridgeport Hospital where physicians pronounced him dead.
The weapon brandished by Wagner during the course of the incident was seized and submitted to the State Forensic Science Laboratory for testing. Criminalists identified the weapon as a Daisy Model 25 pump action BB rifle, caliber .177 BB. Although the item is not considered a firearm, its size, color, shape and overall configuration are designed to be similar in appearance to a 12 gauge pump action shotgun.
A State Police investigation revealed that Wagner had begun drinking at around 1:00PM on November 19, 2004 and continued drinking throughout the day and into the evening hours. At about 11:00 PM, Mr. Wagner was refused service at a bar when he appeared intoxicated and became argumentative and assaultive to other patrons. Tests performed during the autopsy on the body of Mr. Wagner revealed a blood alcohol level over the twice the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle in the State of Connecticut. Investigation also revealed that Mr. Wagner had recently become agitated as a result of his belief that Frances Wellner was engaged in a relationship with another man.
At the time that police arrived at 315 Wilbar Street, Ronald Wagner was intoxicated and emotionally agitated. He resisted efforts by the police to discuss the situation with him. He refused to put down the weapon that he was brandishing. He pointed the weapon at police from inside the house, even ripping down the curtains so they could observe him more clearly. Given the design of the weapon and their opportunity to observe it, police had every reason to conclude that Mr. Wagner was in possession of a 12 Gauge pump-action shotgun.
Despite being faced with what appeared to be an imminent threat to their personal safety, police used every reasonable means at their disposal to resolve the matter peacefully. Mr. Wagner’s final words and conduct can only be reasonably interpreted as a effort by him to force the police on the scene to use deadly physical force. The evidence in this case overwhelmingly and unequivocally supports the conclusion that at the time that Lt. Jersey discharged his weapon, he reasonably believed that the use of deadly physical force was necessary to defend Officer Nattrass from the imminent use of deadly physical force by Ronald Wagner. The use of deadly physical force by Lt. Jersey was, therefore, appropriate under Connecticut General Statutes Section 53a-22 (c).
May 17, 2005
JONATHAN C. BENEDICT
Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport