Report by Peter A. McShane, State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Middlesex Regarding the Shooting Death of Thomas N. Gezotis, Jr., in Suffield on April 13, 2017, Issued Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes Section 51-277a.
On April 13, 2017, at approximately 11:50 a.m., members of the Suffield Police Department responded to a complaint involving a motor vehicle stolen from West Springfield, Massachusetts, earlier that day. The vehicle’s owner had utilized a cellular telephone application to determine the location of the vehicle, which was found parked unoccupied outside the Shamrock Café at 117 East St. South in Suffield. In the course of the police response, Thomas N. Gezotis, Jr., white male, date of birth 09/26/1959, of 76 Wolcott Ave., West Springfield, was shot in the street up the road from that café by Suffield Police Officer Richard Devin. Mr. Gezotis later died. The Division of Criminal Justice extends its condolences to the family of the deceased.
Connecticut General Statutes Section 51-277a reads as follows:
(a) Whenever a peace officer, in the performance of such officer’s duties, uses 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 physical force by the peace officer was appropriate under section 53a-22. The division shall request the appropriate law enforcement agency to provide such assistance as is necessary to determine the circumstances of the incident.
(b) In causing such an investigation to be made, the Chief State’s Attorney shall, (1) as provided in section 51-281, designate a prosecutorial official from a judicial district other than the judicial district in which the incident occurred to conduct the investigation, or (2) as provided in subsection (a) of section 51-285, appoint a special assistant state’s attorney or special deputy assistant state’s attorney to conduct the investigation. The Chief State’s Attorney shall, upon the request of such prosecutorial official or special prosecutor, appoint a special inspector or special inspectors to assist in such investigation.
(c) Upon the conclusion of the investigation of the incident, the division shall file a report with the Chief State’s Attorney which shall contain the following: (1) The circumstances of the incident, (2) a determination of whether the use of physical force by the peace officer was appropriate under section 53a-22, and (3) any future action to be taken by the Division of Criminal Justice as a result of the incident. The Chief State’s Attorney shall provide a copy of the report to the chief executive officer of the municipality in which the incident occurred and to the Commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection or the chief of police of such municipality, as the case may be.
Pursuant to Division of Criminal Justice policy and the above-cited statute, on April 13, 2017, Chief State’s Attorney Kevin T. Kane referred this matter to the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Middlesex for an investigation and the issuance of a report regarding the death of Thomas N. Gezotis, Jr. This State’s Attorney did respond to the scene that afternoon after the shooting. The Connecticut State Police Central District Major Crime Squad (CDMCS) conducted the investigation. Further details of the incident as related in this report are compiled from investigative reports by the CDMCS including sworn statements provided by the officers at the scene and other witnesses to the incident.
On Thursday, April 18, 2017, at approximately 12:08 p.m., five officers from the Suffield Police Department, Chief Richard D. Brown, Lieutenant Ryan Burrell, and patrol Officers Richard Devin, Justin Fuller and Thomas Kieselbak, initiated a "stakeout" in the area of the Shamrock Café at 117 East St. South. Devin sat alone in his police cruiser, just north of the café’s parking lot, in an attempt to possibly identify or connect a perpetrator. Through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the Suffield Police Department dispatch had confirmed that the vehicle was reported as having been stolen that morning. The stolen vehicle’s presence outside Shamrock’s was confirmed on-site by Lt. Burrell.
At approximately 12:34 p.m., an Ace Transportation taxi minivan operated by Rocliffe Vanriel arrived and departed shortly thereafter by the café’s front entrance. From Shamrock’s parking lot, Lt. Burrell via police radio instructed Officer Devin to perform a traffic stop of the taxi which was proceeding north on East Street (South). Devin initiated the stop stopping his marked police cruiser behind the taxi by 996 East Street South, about two-tenths of a mile from Shamrock Café. Devin stated that upon walking up to and greeting the cab operator at the driver’s window, he asked the driver if he had just picked up a fare at the Shamrock Café. Here, Devin observed a passenger in the rear driver’s side seat, later to be identified as Thomas N. Gezotis, Jr., age 56, of 76 Wolcott Ave., West Springfield, Massachusetts. He asked the passenger his name, and Gezotis responded, "Tom." Tom’s last name was inaudible due to the passing traffic.
By his own account, Devin ordered Gezotis to exit the taxi and to keep his hands up and in plain sight. Gezotis proceeded to exit the minivan via the rear passenger side sliding. Devin continued to walk around the rear and then to the right rear (passenger side) corner of the vehicle, as Gezotis stepped out of the vehicle with his hands up. Devin described Gezotis’ facial appearance as strange and almost crazed.
Gezotis then dropped his hands and with one hand pulled up his untucked shirt, and with the other hand began to reach for the butt of a black pistol that was sticking out of his waistband.
According to Devin, Gezotis displayed and pointed a black weapon at him and continued advancing toward him. Fearing for his own safety and that of passing motorists, Devin then drew his weapon while backing up around the rear portion of the minivan, retreating in a westerly direction in an effort to find cover. Gezotis continued toward Devin with the weapon raised and pointed at the officer, not saying anything. Devin repeated several times for Gezotis to "drop it" as he continued retreating westerly and now on the pavement. As Gezotis continued toward Devin, he observed Gezotis’ gun hand move quickly up and down as if the gun was recoiling as a result of it firing at him. Here, Devin began discharging his service weapon, believing that Gezotis was firing at him. He continued firing until Gezotis dropped to the ground.
Subsequently, Gezotis was treated at the scene by police and ambulance personnel and then transported to St. Francis Hospital in Hartford where he was pronounced dead at approximately 1:34 p.m. An autopsy at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner the following day reported that Gezotis died from multiple gunshot wounds to the left mid-forehead and extremities. Devin was treated and released from Hartford Hospital for a thumb laceration the afternoon of April 18, 2017. No other rounds were fired at the scene.
Alone in his own cruiser, Officer Fuller arrived at the scene and stopped behind Devin’s cruiser. Fuller reports seeing Devin standing by the rear passenger side of the taxi as the passenger was exiting, followed by Devin quickly retreating and drawing his duty weapon. Fuller reports then seeing the male passenger speed walk toward Devin while pointing a black revolver at Devin in a tracking-type manner. Fuller sees Gezotis’ gun recoiling, and now believes Gezotis is shooting at Devin. Fuller drives up closer and stops alongside Devin’s cruiser. Fuller hears shots fired and sees Gezotis fall to the ground. Upon exiting his cruiser, Fuller approaches Gezotis and kicks away Gezotis’ weapon, only now realizing it was a pellet / BB gun.
Chief Brown drove past the stopped minivan and Devin’s cruiser and continued northbound on East Street South, knowing that Fuller was backing up Devin. Brown sees Devin walking toward the back of the taxi. Brown reported hearing gunfire and seeing Devin scrambling backward toward the front of the van. Brown saw Gezotis walking toward Devin and pointing a black gun directly at Devin while Devin was shooting. Brown exited his cruiser and saw Gezotis fall to the ground, holding a black handgun pointed at Devin. Brown saw Fuller kick the handgun away from the prone Gezotis as they approached Gezotis with service weapons drawn. Subsequently, both Fuller and Brown administered medical assistance, including ventilations to Gezotis, until an ambulance arrived. A search of Gezotis’ belongings by Fuller at the scene revealed a syringe/needle, a set of Buick car keys, a camouflage knife, and $455.60 in cash.
The taxi driver, Rocliffe Vanreil, age 59, reported that on April 13, 2017, about 12:15 p.m. he was assigned to pick up a "Mr. Thomas" from 1117 East Street South in Suffield with a destination of 90 Elm St in Enfield. Upon his arrival, as no one was outside waiting, Vanreil called the phone number the fare had left and a woman said he would be right out. The subject (Gezotis) arrived at the cab carrying clothes in his hand, entered the cab and sat right behind the front passenger seat. Vanreil reported the passenger looked to him like he was on drugs or tired. He pulled over to the side of the roadway once he saw the police cruiser’s lights flashed behind him.
Vanreil heard Devin asked Gezotis to exit the cab whereupon the passenger responded, "Yes I will." All windows were closed except the driver’s. He saw the officer walk toward the rear of the minivan and within five seconds of hearing the passenger door sliding closed heard gunfire. He saw the officer backpedaling alongside the minivan and firing his gun. He then ducked down across the front seat.
Gezotis was struck by three bullets and ultimately dropped to the pavement. He was pronounced dead at St. Francis Hospital later that afternoon. An autopsy was conducted the following day at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Farmington, which determined the cause of death as "gunshot wounds to the head and extremities." CDMCS investigators located thirteen .40-caliber Smith and Wesson shell casings at the scene spanning a distance of about 63 feet from the northern most expended shell casing to the southernmost. The positioning of the shell casings are consistent with the assertions of Devin and others that he was, in fact, retreating.
After an organized stakeout by police in the attempt to apprehend the felony perpetrator of a known stolen motor vehicle, Officer Devin, in full uniform and operating a marked Suffield police cruiser, initiated a motor vehicle stop of a taxicab within his jurisdiction. Upon ordering Gezotis to exit the taxi and keep his hands visible, Devin commenced to circle the rear of the taxi. Upon observing Gezotis outside the taxi on the passenger side, Devin saw Gezotis reach into his own waistband, produce what appeared to be a firearm, and point it directly at Devin. As both (backup) Officers Justin Fuller and Devin observed Gezotis’ firearm jerking as if being fired, and Devin retreating on foot for cover, Officer Devin drew his service revolver, and fired it at Gezotis in self-defense. The weapon held by Gezotis was a Crossman Vigilante .177-caliber 4.5-mm airsoft gun, black, revolver style, with a pressurized CO2 canister within the grip, which strongly resembles a large caliber handgun.
At the time of the stakeout, members of the Suffield Police Department were not aware of a bank robbery that had occurred in Enfield approximately 11:30 a.m. that morning. In that robbery, a weapon was not displayed, but the perpetrator made motions that he had one underneath his shirt. Gezotis was later identified by police via photos and evidence found inside the stolen vehicle, and on the person of Gezotis, as the perpetrator of this bank robbery. Additional interviews by police with Gezotis’ associates revealed that he had recently stated he would be returning to prison for crimes he recently committed, that he was going to rob a bank and that he would not be taken alive. Additionally, Gezotis reportedly stated he would go out in a blaze of glory, was a heroin user and would kill himself if he had to. Additionally, Gezotis was suspected by police of a commercial burglary on April 4, 2017, and an armed robbery at a Dunkin Donuts on April 5, 2017.
Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-22(c) provides:
"A Peace Officer. . . is justified in using deadly physical force upon another person for the purposes specified in Subsection (b) of this section only when he reasonably believes such to be necessary to: (1) Defend himself or a 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 § 53a-22(b) provides:
"Except as provided by subsection (a) of this Section, a Peace Officer. . . is justified in using physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he reasonable believes such to be necessary to: (1) Effect an arrest or prevent the escape from custody of a person whom he reasonably believes to have committed an offense, unless he knows that the arrest or custody is unauthorized; or (2) Defend himself or a third person from the use or imminent use of physical force while attempting to effect an arrest or while preventing or attempting to prevent an escape."
Consequently, pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-22(c)(1), a police officer may use deadly force when he reasonably believes the use of such force is necessary to defend himself or another from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force. The test is both subjective and objective. First, 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. Second, that belief must be objectively reasonable. See State v. Prioleau, 235 Conn. 274(1995).
The test is not whether it was in fact necessary for the officer to use deadly physical force in order to defend against the imminent use of deadly physical force. The test is whether the officer believed such to be the case, and whether such belief was objectively reasonable, based on the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time the decision to use deadly force was made. See State v. Silveira, 198 Conn 454 (1986); State v. Adams, 52 Conn. App. 643 (1999).
The United States Supreme Court explained this test in detail in a civil rights action.
"The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene rather than the 20/20 vision of hindsight. . . The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance to 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." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 109 S. CT 1865, 104 L. Ed. 2d 443 (1989)
The State’s Attorney finds that based on the facts in this case Suffield Police Officer Richard Devin was justified under Connecticut General Statutes Section 53a-22(c) in using deadly physical force upon another person, that being Thomas N. Gezotis, Jr. Officer Devin was justified based upon his reasonable belief that the use of deadly physical force was necessary to defend himself and others around him: specifically, that Devin began retreating upon seeing Gezotis’ weapon that closely resembled a large handgun, pointing and recoiling at him.
Hence, this State’s Attorney determines, that the use of deadly force was appropriate under Connecticut General Statutes Section 51-277(a), and that no further action will be taken by the Division of Criminal Justice as a result of this incident.
Peter A. McShane
State’s Attorney / Judicial District of Middlesex
November 2, 2017