Report of the State's Attorney for the Judicial District of New Haven Pursuant to Section 51-277a of the Connecticut General Statutes Concerning the Shooting Death of Christopher Morro on March 14, 2006.
Report to the Chief State's Attorney Pursuant to Section 51-277a of the Connecticut General Statutes Concerning the Shooting Death of Christopher Morro on March 14, 2006
Judicial District of New Haven
September 11, 2006
Honorable Joseph Maturo, Mayor, Town of East Haven
Leonard Boyle, Esq., Commissioner, State of Connecticut Department of Public Safety
Leonard Gallo, Chief of Police, Town of East Haven
The following report concerning the shooting death of Christopher Morro, age 30, on March 14, 2006, at about 9:15 p.m., is prepared and submitted by Michael Dearington, State’s Attorney, Judicial District of New Haven, pursuant to Section 51-277a, of the Connecticut General Statutes. The lethal shots were fired by police officers after they were fired upon by Morro on the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge in New Haven. The report and conclusions are based upon the thorough and professional investigation conducted by the Connecticut State Police Western District Major Crime Squad, in conjunction with the State Police Forensic Science Crime Laboratory, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and with the cooperation of the Connecticut State Police, the New Haven Police Department and the East Haven Police Department and the State’s Attorney’s Office for the Judicial District of New Haven.
On March 14, 2006, at about 9:10 P.M., the East Haven Police Department received a 911 call report of an armed robbery at the Mobil gas station convenience store located on North Frontage Road in East Haven. Officers Lance Helms and David Cari immediately responded to the location in separate marked cruisers. Both arrived at about the same time. Officer Helms entered the store and obtained information that two white males, one with a silver handgun, had a short time before entered the store and robbed cash from the clerk. Helms was also told that they fled in a champagne colored Nissan Altima. This information was communicated to Officer Cari who then drove West on North Frontage Road, which is a one-way thoroughfare . He entered onto Route I-95 southbound. The traffic was moving at normal speeds for about one-third mile until Officer Cari entered onto the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge (the Q Bridge) at which point due to construction-related lane closures on the bridge the traffic was either slowed down or stopped. Officer Cari observed and reported that a car fitting the description of the suspect vehicle was stopped in traffic on the bridge ten to fifteen car lengths ahead of him. He observed what appeared to be two people in the front seats of the car. Officer Cari maneuvered his vehicle to a position directly behind the Altima and activated his emergency lights. The Altima, by splitting two lines of stopped traffic, moved ahead during the course of which it side swiped and damaged numerous cars. East Haven Sergeant John Miller, who was driving a marked Ford Expedition, managed to get ahead of the Altima by driving in the left lane. Sergeant Miller blocked the Altima by positioning his vehicle in front of and perpendicular to the Altima. The Altima, which was stopped in the right lane, pulled into the center lane and struck the right rear of and pushed by the Ford Expedition. It continued to collide with and weave through the traffic until it was stopped by striking the rear of a stationary vehicle.
Officers Cari and Helms ran up to the driver’s door ordering the operator to show his hands. The officers observed only the operator in the vehicle. Officer Helms then opened the driver's door and he and Officer Cari pulled the driver, later identified as Isaiah Simmons, age 20, out of the car. He was handcuffed.
State Police Troopers First Class Jeff Correa and Daniel Sivori and State Police Sergeant Kenneth Rigney, who were assigned to working on the bridge and were over the radio monitoring the chase, approached the Altima moments after East Haven Police had arrived. Officer Cari, as Simmons was removed from the vehicle observed a pistol with a finger on the trigger in the front seat area pointing at Officer Helms. Officer Cari yelled gun and dove into the vehicle landing on top of Christopher Morro, age 30, who was partially on the passenger floor and partially leaning over the center console. Officer Cari landed on Morro’s back and placed downward pressure in order to prevent Morro from discharging the firearm.
Officers then heard what was described as three to four shots. Ballistics test of the evidence showed Morro fired three shots. Officer Cari at such time, felt a burning sensation in his lower back. Such was a bullet wound to the buttocks area. Trooper Sivori who was standing next to the Altima also felt what was a gunshot to his buttocks. Trooper Sivori felt a pain in his chest area. Shortly thereafter Trooper Sivori realized he had been hit in the center of the chest, however, the bullet although leaving a mark did not penetrate the body armor. Trooper Sivori had obtained the vest from his cruiser and put it on only moments before approaching the Altima. Officer Cari, realizing he had been shot, reached for his weapon and discovered that his holster was empty. (His weapon was located on the road next to the Altima). Believing that he would be shot to death he pushed himself up to exit the Altima. At the same time Officer Helms grabbed Officer Cari’s gun belt and assisted him in exiting the car. Officer Cari slid to the ground and crawled to the rear of the Altima where he lost consciousness.
Trooper Sivori and Sergeant Miller fired one and three shots, respectively at the person in the Altima.
The autopsy and ballistics examinations shows that Morro was struck by three bullets. One entered the upper rear right shoulder and exited in the area of the right armpit. Such was fired from Trooper Sivori’s weapon. The two other bullets entered respectively the upper rear of the right shoulder and the center front chest. They both came to rest in the stomach area. They were fired from Sergeant Millers’ weapon. Sergeant Miller fired a third shot, which penetrated the left rear door.
The tracks of the three bullets striking Morro had a downward trajectory consistent with Morro being in a quasi-raised position facing officers from the front seat area and officers firing downward into the car. Morro died at the scene and was removed by members of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Morro’s weapon, a Walther P38 .9mm semi-automatic pistol was located in the Altima near the center console. A ballistic examination showed that there were five live rounds remaining in the magazine. Also, the weapon had malfunctioned due to a casing being jammed in the ejection port. Such condition, commonly called "stovepiping," freezes the slide and prevents additional shots from being fired from the pistol. It can be caused by pressure being applied to the weapon, the age of the weapon, type of ammunition or improper holding of the weapon while firing. It is probable that Officer Cari caused the stovepiping as he lay on top of Morro.
The Medical Examiner later determined that Christopher Charles Morro, age 30, died as a result of the aforementioned gunshot wounds.
A toxicology test disclosed traces of cocaine in Morro’s blood.
A subsequent investigation of the armed robbery disclosed the clerk at the Mobil Station convenience store at around 9:00 P.M. observed the champagne colored Nissan Altima enter the Mobile Station lot and park near the exit. The car remained until the one or two customers in the store exited and drove away. The clerk then observed a person wearing dark clothing and a dark mask run from the car and enter the store carrying a pistol. He ordered the clerk to give him money. The clerk complied by handing him cash from the drawer. Morro’s coat pocket, when he was subdued by police, contained a roll of three hundred and forty-two dollars in rolled-up bills. The robber then ran out the door and entered the Altima. The car drove off. The clerk believes, but is not certain, that he entered the passenger door of the Altima. The clerk then called 911 from his cell phone and reported the robbery. A roll of bills in the amount of $342.00 was found in Morro’s sweatshirt pocket which assumably was taken during the robbery.
Section 51-277a, of the Connecticut General Statutes, provides that "the Division of Criminal Justice shall cause an investigation to be made whenever a peace officer, in the performance of his duties, uses deadly physical force upon another person and such person dies as a result thereof ..." Traditionally, the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District where the death occurs represents the Division of Criminal Justice in such capacity. The State’s Attorney must not only make a finding as to the circumstances of the incident, but also must make "a determination of whether the use of such deadly physical force by the police officer was appropriate (reasonable) under Section 53a-22", Connecticut General Statutes, and a determination as to "any future action to be taken by the Division of Criminal Justice as a result of the incident."
Based upon a thorough and professional investigation it is reasonable to find the following facts:
Christopher Morro on March 14, 2006, shortly after 9:00 p.m., along with Isaiah Simmons, in the latter’s recently purchased 2004 Nissan Altima, drove to the Mobil gas station convenience store on North Frontage Road for the purpose of committing an armed robbery. They waited in the car in the parking lot until all of the customers left the store. Morro then exited the car and while displaying a handgun entered the store and robbed $342.00 from the clerk. Based upon the cocaine found in Morro’s system it may be concluded that the use of cocaine is related to a motive for the robbery. Morro returned to and entered the front passenger seat of the Altima. Simmons then entered onto Route I-95 (the Turnpike) going southbound.
East Haven Police pursued and stopped the vehicle. The operator, Simmons, was pulled out of the car. The front seat passenger, Morro, had secreted himself in the front passenger area. He possessed and displayed a Walther P38 pistol containing eight live rounds. Officer Cari dove into the front seat area to prevent Morro from firing the weapon. Morro fired three shots at police. Officer Cari was struck in the buttocks as he struggled with Morro in the car. Trooper Sivori was struck in the chest area of his bulletproof vest and the buttocks as he was positioned outside the front driver’s door. At this point in time Morro’s weapon jammed and such prevented the firing of additional shots. Trooper Sivori fired once into the car striking Morro in the upper rear of the right shoulder. Such bullet exited near the right armpit. Sergeant Miller fired three shots in a downward direction at Morro. One entered the center upper chest area and another entered the upper rear of the right shoulder. Both bullets came to rest in the stomach area. Both were fatal shots. A third bullet fired by Sergeant Miller entered the left rear door of the Altima coming to rest on a door hinge.
Although it can be said that the loss of human life even under these circumstances is regrettable, it cannot here be said that police had any alternative but to taking the action which they did. Christopher Morro who had minutes before committed an armed robbery clearly was not about to submit to arrest. Morro’s apparent objective after being cornered by police without any chance of escape was to shoot as many police officers as possible. But for the quick action of police Morro may have not only caused the death of police officers but also the death of motorists waiting in traffic on that Tuesday evening. Although scores of pages were prepared by detectives and other agencies in their investigation the terrifying events occurred in a matter of seconds.
There is no police training that can fully prepare an officer to deal with such a life threatening situation. Officer Cari by virtue of his spontaneous decision to dive into the Altima to prevent Morro from firing his weapon at the several officers standing only feet away outside the car most likely prevented additional injuries. By doing so it is probable that the Officer Cari by placing pressure on the weapon after three shots had been fired caused the gun to malfunction. He thereby prevented five additional shots form being fired. Moreover, Troopers Sivori’s good judgment in putting on his bulletproof vest moments before approaching the vehicle prevented him from receiving what would probably be a fatal chest injury. Miraculously Officer Cari and Trooper Sivori received only minor flesh wounds.
Also, the other officers who responded to the scene during the shootout should all be commended for entering into harm’s way at great risk to themselves.
If there was ever a situation where the use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer was envisioned by Section 53a-22 of our statutes, the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and the parameters annunciated by the U.S. Supreme Court, this is such a scenario.
Accordingly, although what happened on the evening of March 14, 2006, will never be forgotten by the involved officers, their family, friends and colleagues, as well as Morro’s family, it is a closed matter as far as the Division of Criminal Justice. The use of fatal force by officers was not only fully justified by law but there was no alternative course of conduct available to police.
Judicial District of New Haven
Section 53a-22, Connecticut General Statutes, captioned "Use of physical force in making an arrest or preventing escape", provides, in part, that:
A peace officer . . . is justified in using deadly physical force upon another person only when he reasonably believes such is necessary to: (1) Defend himself or a third person from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force. . . .
The United States Supreme Court has indicated:
The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 389, 396 (1989) .
Also, in Graham, the Court stated that:
The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split second judgments - in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving - about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation. Supra, p. 396-397.
(T)he "reasonableness inquiry in an excessive fore case is an objective one: the question is whether the officers’ actions are "objectively reasonable" in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. Supra, p. 397.
The reasonableness of the inquiry depends only upon the officer’s knowledge of circumstances immediately at the moment that he made the split-second decision to employ deadly force. Maria Salim, Administratrix v. William Proulx, 93 F.3d 86, 92 (2d Cir. 1996). (East Hartford Police Department’s police officer’s fatal shooting of individual).
Also, an officer’s actions may be found reasonable even where "officers of reasonable competence could disagree" on the issue. Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986).