Report of the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk Concerning the Use of Deadly Physical Force Resulting in the Death of Bryan Stukes in the City of Bridgeport on April 1, 2013
Introduction | Factual Findings | Applicable Law | Conclusion
On Monday, April 1, 2013, at approximately 9:40 p.m. in the City of Bridgeport, a police officer of the City of Bridgeport used deadly physical force which resulted in the death of Mr. Bryan Stukes.
Section 51-277a of the General Statutes provides that, whenever a peace officer in the performance of his or her duties, uses deadly physical force upon another person and such person dies as a result thereof, the Division of Criminal Justice shall cause an investigation to be made and shall have the responsibility of determining whether the use of deadly physical force was appropriate under section 53a-22 of the General Statutes. While traditionally the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District in which the incident occurs conducts the investigation, in this case the Chief State’s Attorney, pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes 51-277a(b) and Section 51-281, designated the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Stamford/Norwalk to cause the investigation to be made. Accordingly, this State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Stamford/Norwalk caused such an investigation to be conducted by the Connecticut State Police Western District Major Crime Squad. They were aided in this task by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the Forensic Science Laboratory of the Division of Scientific Services, Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, and the Bridgeport Police Department. The investigation is concluded and this report represents my findings and legal conclusions.
The genesis of this incident concerns the strained relationship between Bryan Stukes and Anthony Davis who is related to the daughter of Stukes’s girlfriend, Melissa (Missy) Jefferson. According to Davis, over the few weeks prior to April 1, 2013, Stukes verbally harassed and threatened him, because of Davis’s disapproval of Stukes’s treatment of Melissa Jefferson and because Davis is homosexual. The threats included statements from Stukes that “I don’t like faggots. I don’t fight. I go get my ratchet and I pull the trigger”. (Ratchett is street slang for gun or weapon).
On the date in question, Shaquan Hunt, Anthony Davis’s boyfriend, was visiting Jefferson at her residence, 168 Beachwood Avenue in Bridgeport. Stukes was also present. According to Hunt, both Jefferson and Stukes were intoxicated. An argument ensued during which Hunt was asked to leave. He called Davis, who was at work, in order to get a ride. While waiting, Stukes came around to the front of the house from the rear and continued to argue with Hunt, at one point threatening to go and get his gun. Anthony Davis arrived at that point. Stukes was eventually convinced to leave which he did with Jefferson and another individual in that person’s vehicle. Davis then left with Hunt and another friend, Michael Clapp. (The findings of the above paragraph are verified by statements of Davis, Hunt, Clapp and Jefferson.)
Davis, Hunt and Clapp proceeded to his aunt’s home at 168 Jones Avenue, where he picked up three relatives, the plan being to drive to Norwalk. His sister, Kiara Davis, and cousin, Ashley Downing were in their own car, following Davis. The cars traveled south on Jones Avenue. As Jones Avenue crosses Pequonnock Street, the street name becomes Benham Avenue. When they reached the intersection with Pequonnock Street, Davis noticed what he thought was a Bridgeport police detective vehicle parked near the southeast corner, at Golfino’s Fish Market. The vehicle was assigned to Detective Christopher Borona, who at the time was inside the store, visiting with the owner.
Golfino’s Fish Market is located on the southeast corner of Pequonnock Street and Benham Avenue. The front entrance faces Pequonnock Street, close to the corner. The outside of the store was equipped with video surveillance equipment, which was functioning at the time. Three camera angles captured the incident: two facing west along the front of the store on Pequonnock Street and one facing south along the side of the store on Benham Avenue.
Davis indicated that as he proceeded south on Benham Avenue, he was confronted again by Stukes, who was walking with Jefferson north on Benham. When Stukes saw Davis, he crossed the street, going towards the vehicle, while removing a long object from his pants leg. This can be seen on the video. At first Davis thought it was a sledgehammer, but then recognized it as a rifle. Some unknown person at the scene yelled that “he’s got a gun” and three passengers ran from the car. They were picked up by the trailing car driven by Kiara Davis, and left the area. At the same time, Jefferson intervened, by physically pushing Stukes away from the car, back to the sidewalk. Davis then drove to the next corner, executed a ”U turn” to drive north towards Pequonnock Street where he had seen the police vehicle. According to the time stamp on the video, this occurred at 9:45. At that point Stukes and Jefferson walked a short distance south on Benham Avenue and turned into an area, possibly a house or yard off the street.
At 9:46, Davis double-parked on Pequonnock Street, in front of Golfino’s. He called 911 from his cell phone and also attempted to get the attention of someone in the store to notify the police officer he thought was inside. Review of the Bridgeport Police Department 911 recordings confirm that Davis called saying that he was afraid that he was going to be killed. Carlos Pinheiro, the owner of the store, confirmed that a male on a cell phone approached the front door and asked if any police officers were inside. Pinheiro said, “No.”
The following time line details the incident as it unfolded in a matter of less than one minute.
9:47:42 – Stukes and Jefferson re-appear on the video, walking north towards Pequonnock Street.
9:48:02 -- Stukes came around the corner, pulling a rifle out of his pants leg. He confronted Davis, pointing the rifle at him. Jefferson intervened a few times, pushing Stukes away from Davis.
Carlos Pinheiro saw what was taking place in front of his store on the video monitor located near the front entrance. He called out to his son Kevin, who was also working in the store to go get Detective Borona, who was in the rear of the store. Kevin Pinheiro ran and got Detective Borona and followed him to the front of the store.
9:48:24/25 - The door to the store opened. Detective Borona had pulled his service weapon, identifying himself as a police officer and ordering Stukes to “drop the gun”. This is confirmed by Carlos Pinheiro, Kevin Pinheiro, Anthony Davis and Shaquan Hunt. At that point the rifle was still pointed at Davis. As Davis stated, “If he (Stukes) had pulled the trigger, my head would have probably been across the street.”
9:48:26 – Stukes who was pointing the rifle towards Davis in the street, looked towards the door. One second later he turned towards the door, with the rifle pointing in the detective’s direction. Borona described Stukes as “being directly in front of me”. Although it cannot be stated with certainty, the distance between them appears to be less than six feet. Within a second, the Detective shot towards Stukes as Stukes pointed the rifle towards him. A shell casing can be seen being ejected from Borona’s weapon. This is further confirmed by the fact that a shell casing, later determined to have come from Detective Borona’s gun was found on Pequonnock Street, on the sidewalk just outside the entrance to Golfino’s. This shot is most likely the shot that caused the injuries to Bryan Stukes’s left and right thighs, (as is more fully described below concerning the autopsy findings).
9:48:28 – Stukes can be seen running towards the corner with the Detective in pursuit. He continued to run and ignore the Detective’s command to stop. Stukes, with Detective Borona behind, ran the few feet around the corner onto Benham Avenue.
9:48:30 – Stukes tripped and fell forward on the sidewalk.
9:48:31 – The rifle flew forward, slid across the sidewalk, and came to rest between a utility pole and the curb. Simultaneously, Stukes got up and continued to run. Within a second, Borona came around the corner. Thus, it would appear that at this point Borona was unaware that Stukes had tripped and was no longer in possession of the rifle.
9:48:32/33 – Detective Borona shot again and seemed to hit Stukes. At that moment, Stukes lifted his left shoulder as if he had been hit. This is most likely the shot that caused the upper back entry wound which was the fatal shot. A second shell casing, also determined to have been fired from Detective Borona’s gun, was located in the street by the curb at that location. Stukes continued to run, crossed Benham Avenue diagonally. He then turned right onto Coleman Street, where he collapsed in a driveway, a distance of over 200 feet. Thus, despite being hit a second time, he was able to run for a considerable distance.
9:48:34 – Detective Borona noticed that the rifle was on the ground. He broke off pursuit and immediately went to the rifle, protecting the area to prevent anyone else from getting to it. Shortly thereafter, police and EMT units responded. Stukes was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital where he died.
The autopsy performed by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined that there were three gunshot wounds: 1) through the right thigh; 2) through the left thigh; and 3) from the left side of the upper back, downward and leftward through the left lung, exiting from the right chest. Cause of death was listed as “multiple gunshot wounds.” Manner of death was listed as “homicide”. The toxicology report indicated that the deceased had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.19 percent. By comparison, a motorist is deemed legally intoxicated when his or her BAC is 0.8 percent; thus the decedent’s BAC was more than twice the level at which intoxication is indicated.
Detective Borona’s handgun was seized. It contained a magazine with six rounds and one chambered round, all the same type of ammunition. This particular gun has a maximum capacity of 8+1 rounds. Thus, Detective Borona shot twice. Witnesses also indicate hearing two shots. It is likely that one shot caused both thigh wounds and the other shot caused the other wound. It should be noted that one expended projectile was recovered from a second floor porch of a home located on the east side of Benham Avenue. Ballistics indicate that it came from Detective Borona’s gun. It is unknown how this projectile ended up in this location.
Although it was determined later that the rifle possessed by Bryan Stukes was not loaded, that fact was unknown to the civilians Davis and Hunt who were being threatened by Stukes, nor to Detective Borona. Thus, it is not relevant to the findings in this matter.
Section 53a-22(c) of the Connecticut General Statutes states that a police officer is justified in using deadly physical force upon another person when he reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to “defend himself or herself or a third person from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force.”
The test to determine whether the officer’s use of deadly force was reasonable is both subjective and objective: subjective in that the officer must believe that the use of deadly force is necessary to defend himself or another from the imminent use of deadly physical force; and objective in that the belief must be objectively reasonable. The burden of proof is on the State to disprove the elements of the justification defense. See State v. Smith, 73 Conn. App. 173, cert. denied, 262 Conn. 923 (2002).
The test is whether the officer believed it was necessary to use deadly physical force and whether such belief was objectively reasonable, based on the facts and circumstances known to the police officer at the time the decision to use deadly force was made.
As the United States Supreme Court stated: “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on scene rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. . .The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance of the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions - in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” Graham v. Connor , 490 U.S. 386 (1989).
Furthermore, a peace officer may be justified in using deadly force against a fleeing felon who could reasonably be considered a danger to others. The United States Supreme Court has articulated the standard to be applied as follows:
Where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force. Thus, if the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe that he had committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to prevent escape, and if, where feasible, some warning has been given.(Emphasis added.) Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 105 S. Ct. 1694 (1985) at 11-12. In Terrell v. Smith, 668 F.3d 1244 (11th Cir. 2012), the Eleventh Circuit identified three factors from Garner concerning the reasonableness of an officer’s use of deadly force on a fleeing suspect: (1) whether the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or to others or that the suspect has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm; (2) whether the officer reasonably believes that the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent escape; and (3) whether the officer has given some warning about the possible use of deadly force, if feasible.
On April 1, 2013, Detective Christopher Borona was confronted with an individual pointing a rifle at a third person in a threatening manner. Detective Borona drew his service weapon, clearly identified himself as a police officer and ordered the person pointing the rifle, the deceased Bryan Stukes, to drop it. Instead of doing so, Bryan Stukes turned and pointed the rifle in the Detective’s direction. At this point, Detective Borona fearing for his safety shot Bryan Stukes. Stukes ran around the corner. Detective Borona gave chase. Although Stukes fell and lost his hold on the rifle, in the mere two seconds – literally the blink of an eye – between the time he went around the corner and the time he gets up from the ground, it would not have been reasonably possible for Detective Borona to know that Stukes had been hit or that he had lost the rifle which traveled forward and towards the right. One second later, Detective Borona, not knowing that Stukes was unarmed, shoots again. It is entirely reasonable that dealing with an armed fleeing felon, in an area where there were numerous bystanders, that Detective Borona feared that Stukes continued to pose a threat. Indeed, nothing would have prevented Stukes from turning and firing at the Detective. One second after that, he sees the rifle and immediately breaks off his pursuit of Stukes and secures the rifle’s location. At that point, it was less likely that Stukes would pose an imminent threat, and Detective Borona took the most reasonable action in securing the weapon that had fallen to the ground. This further shows that Detective Borona’s actions were motivated by a duty to protect public safety. In applying the standards outlined above, it is important that Bryan Stukes was not only armed but that he actually pointed the weapon in the officer’s direction, giving rise to the reasonable belief that, although fleeing, he still posed a threat of serious physical harm to the officer and others in the area. Furthermore, the fact that Bryan Stukes was fleeing while armed supports the reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary to prevent his escape with the subsequent possibility his causing harm if not apprehended. This is further supported by the fact attested to by many of the witnesses that Stukes had been actively threatening the use of the rifle on Davis and actually pointed it at Davis’s head. Finally, it is significant that the officer clearly gave a verbal command to “drop the gun”, which together with his drawn service weapon clearly indicated to Stukes that deadly force would be used if he did not comply. Thus, applying the standards outlined above, the use of deadly force was reasonable under the circumstances.
Based on all the facts and circumstances presented, I find that Detective Borona’s use of deadly physical force to be objectively reasonable and, therefore, justified under section 53a-22 (c) of the Connecticut General Statutes.
I would like to express my appreciation to the Connecticut State Police Western District Major Crime Squad, especially Sergeant Michael DeCesare and Detective William Flynn, the Bridgeport Police Department, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the Forensic Science Laboratory of the Division of Scientific Services, Department of Emergency Services, and Supervisory Inspector Gary Mecozzi of the Judicial District of Stamford/Norwalk, for their efforts in this matter.
I also wish to express my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Bryan Stukes on the loss of their loved one.
David I. Cohen
Judicial District of Stamford/Norwalk
July 8, 2014