Report of the State's Attorney of the Judicial District of New London Concerning the Death of Andrew Lenetis on November 1, 2019
LEGAL AUTHORITY FOR THE REPORT
Connecticut General Statutes Section 51-277a provides in relevant parts:
(a) (1) 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 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.
On April 6, 2020, pursuant to Section 51-277a, Deputy Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Lawlor assigned the undersigned New London State’s Attorney to conduct this investigation. The allegations of use of physical force on Andrew Lenetis, a white male with the date of birth of May 21, 1979, by members of the East Hartford Police Department occurred on November 1, 2019.
CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE DEATH
On November 1, 2019 at approximately 2:09 p.m., East Hartford police dispatch received a 911 call from 163 School Street indicating that one of the residents, Andrew Lenetis, had thrown chairs in their community room and that he possessed two knives he had used to stab a pumpkin several times in front of the building. The caller reported that Mr. Lenetis had been drinking and that he was still in possession of the two knives when he had returned to his room.
Officers Kwanza Clayton, a black male, and Kevin Beeman, a white male, were dispatched for a welfare check to 163 School Street. Officer Clayton was familiar with 163 School Street, which was also known as Heritage Garden Apartments. It housed a community foundation operated by InterCommunity which supervised a housing program for people living with chronic and severe mental illness and/or addiction disorders. InterCommunity provided community treatment at various locations throughout the Hartford area. Upon the officers’ arrival, the InterCommunity site supervisor at 163 School St. advised Officer Clayton that Mr. Lenetis was in his room and in possession of the two knives. Officers Clayton and Beeman proceeded to Mr. Lenetis’ room on the second floor. Officer Beeman knocked on Mr. Lenetis’ door. Mr. Lenetis opened the door and stepped out into the hallway. Officer Clayton, fearing that Mr. Lenetis was still in possession of the two knives, immediately grabbed both of his arms and attempted to secure him by placing handcuffs on him. Mr. Lenetis pulled his left arm away from Officer Clayton and attempted to walk away. Officers Clayton and Beeman then wrestled Mr. Lenetis to the ground, where he continued to struggle. After a brief struggle, Mr. Lenetis was secured with handcuffs. Officer Beeman located two pumpkin carving knives in the back pocket of Mr. Lenetis’ pants. The knives were turned over to the resident staff for safe keeping. Four additional East Hartford police officers arrived on the second floor after Mr. Lenetis had been secured. They were Sgt. Timothy Irwin, Officer Jason Hawley, Officer Richard Hill and Officer Craig Cote. Officers Hawley and Beeman lifted Mr. Lenetis to his feet from his sitting position on the hallway floor. Mr. Lenetis’ left eye appeared swollen. Officers walked Mr. Lenetis downstairs and outside to the smoking area to await the arrival of an ambulance to transport him for a psychological evaluation. Mr. Lenetis was conversing with police officers on the second floor hallway and outside in the smoking area. Although Mr. Lenetis was conversing with officers, Officer Beeman noted that what Mr. Lenetis was saying did not make sense and was not responsive to questions asked. Mr. Lenetis mentioned that he had been shot and jumped and also repeatedly spoke about the military. Officer Beeman also noted that Mr. Lenetis smelled strongly of alcohol.
Officers were advised by InterCommunity staff that Mr. Lenetis had not been taking his prescribed medication. His mental health caseworker later advised that Mr. Lenetis has been refusing services and not allowing staff into his apartment. Mr. Lenetis’ caseworker said he had not seen Mr. Lenetis in many months.
Pursuant to the officers Police Emergency Examination Request an ambulance from Ambulance Services of Manchester arrived at approximately 2:26 p.m. to transport Mr. Lenetis to St. Francis Hospital for a psychological evaluation. The two EMTs observed Mr. Lenetis to be compliant and apologetic. The only injury observed was an apparent hematoma over his left eye and some minor abrasions on his wrists where he had been handcuffed. They did note that Mr. Lenetis suffered from a lack of self-care. He appeared dirty and his legs and genitals were swollen. Mr. Lenetis also was noted to be intoxicated. During the ride to the hospital, Mr. Lenetis did not mention his encounter with the police. His entire conversation consisted of his service in the military and wars in an apparent response to one of the EMTs admitting to being a veteran. Mr. Lenetis did not complain of any pain. When the ambulance arrived at St. Francis Hospital the EMTs were advised that Mr. Lenetis should not have been directly transferred to the psychiatric wing because of his physical condition. Apparently Mr. Lenetis had passed out during transport. The EMTs assumed that this was brought about by his intoxication.
The police had cleared from Mr. Lenetis’ residence after he had been transported by ambulance. No arrest was contemplated as the only damage caused by Mr. Lenetis appeared to be to the pumpkins and also because of his mental condition.
On November 4, 2019 Mr. Lenetis’ brother, Gregory Lenetis, spoke to Deputy Chief Christopher Davis and advised him that his brother Andrew had died on November 3, 2019 at St. Francis Hospital after undergoing brain surgery on November 1, 2019.
At the request of the Hartford State’s Attorney’s Office the East Hartford Police Department conducted an investigation into Mr. Lenetis’ death. The investigation was conducted by Deputy Chief Christopher Davis. His investigative book was submitted to the Hartford State’s Attorneys office in late February and a copy of the surveillance video was submitted in mid-March. The matter subsequently was referred to this office to determine whether the use of force by Officers Clayton and Beeman was appropriate under the circumstances. A revised copy of Deputy Chief Davis’ investigative book was received by this office on April 21, 2020.
During the course of this office’s investigation the Lenetis family was represented by Attorney David M. Cohen of Wolfsey, Rosen, Kwesten & Kuriansky, LLP of Stamford, CT. Attorney Cohen was provided with copies of the investigative reports and all video and audio tapes. Attorney Cohen, who was cooperative throughout the investigation, provided the undersigned with reports that I would not have been privy to because of H.I.P.P.A.
POST MORTEM REPORT
On November 4, 2019 an autopsy was performed on the body of Mr. Lenetis by Dr. Frank Evangelista of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Dr. Evangelista’s final anatomic diagnosis was as follows:
I. BLUNT INJURY OF HEAD:
A. LEFT EYE CONTUSION
B. SCALP CONTUSION, LEFT SIDE
C. ACUTE SUBDURAL HEMATOMA (STATUS-POST SURGICAL INTERVENTION)
D. NO SKULL FRACTURES
II. CHRONIC ALCOHOLISM:
A. CIRRHOSIS AND FATTY METAMORPHOSIS OF LIVER, 2720 GRAMS
C. PERITONEAL ASCITES, APPROXIMATELY 1 LITER
D. PERISPLENITIS, 460 GRAMS
E. SEE TOXICOLOGY REPORT
The cause of death was determined to be, “Subcranial Hematoma Due to Blunt Impact Injury of Head” and other significant conditions, “Cirrhosis of the Liver.” The manner of death was determined to be “Homicide” and how the injury occurred, “Struck Head on Floor During Takedown by Police.” The toxicological report indicated that Mr. Lenetis blood alcohol concentration was 0.180. The East Hartford Police Department was informed of the cause of death by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner on December 5, 2019.
The residence of 163 School St. had a number of security cameras on the premises. A copy of the relevant video was obtained by Deputy Chief Davis from the East Hartford Housing Authority. A review of the video corroborated the reports of Officers Clayton and Beeman. The hallway camera view showed that the force used by the officers was consistent with a wrestling type maneuver used to take Mr. Lenetis to the ground. There were no open or close handed punches or kicks nor was any type of weapon used during the encounter. The entire struggle to bring Mr. Lenetis under control took approximately two minutes. Mr. Lenetis was observed to have a bruise over his right eye after the struggle, presumably from striking his head on the floor. The exterior camera view of the smoking area showed Mr. Lenetis handcuffed conversing with officers while seated at a picnic table and while standing. Mr. Lenetis did not appear to be in any distress.
Other than Officers Clayton and Beeman, there were no witnesses to the actual encounter between the police and Mr. Lenetis. Residents were interviewed but related that they only witnessed Mr. Lenetis’ aggressive behavior with the knives prior to the arrival of the police and his behavior while waiting outside with the police for the ambulance. They generally described Mr. Lenetis’ behavior at the latter time as being calm. They did observe a bruise over his right eye. The only complaint they heard Mr. Lenetis utter was that his handcuffs were too tight. The handcuffs were subsequently loosened.
PRIOR USE OF FORCE COMPLAINTS
On April 20, 2020, upon this office’s request, Deputy Chief Davis reviewed all Internal Affairs’ files and found no sustained internal affairs findings regarding use of force complaints against either Officer Clayton or Officer Beeman.
LAW REGARDING USE OF PHYSICAL FORCE BY A POLICE OFFICER
Connecticut General Statute Section 53a-22 sets forth the circumstances under which a peace officer may employ force in the performance of his or her duties. A peace officer is justified in using physical force to effectuate an arrest or prevent an escape, or to defend himself/herself or others from the imminent use of force.
In State v. Smith, 73 Conn. App. 173, 184-85, cert. denied, 262 Conn. 923 (2002), the Connecticut Appellate Court announced a standard to be used in determining if an officer’s use of force was justified and reasonable. In making this determination, the Court held that one must look at both the “subjective” and “objective” reasonableness of the officer’s conduct. Using this two-step analysis, one must look first at whether or not (1) the officer subjectively expected that the force used would cause death or serious injury, and then (2) whether or not the officer’s expectation was objectively reasonable.
The United States Supreme Court has explained this test in a civil rights case, “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on scene rather 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 at 396-397 (1989). “The appropriate inquiry is whether the officers acted reasonably, not whether they had less intrusive alternatives available to them.” Scott v. Henrich, 39 F.3d. 912, 915 (9th Cir. 1992).
DETERMINATION CONCERNING THE APPROPRIATNESS OF THE USE OF FORCE
In the present case, the East Hartford police officers, Kwanza Clayton and Kevin Beeman clearly used non-deadly force in attempting to restrain Mr. Lenetis in order to locate the two knives on his person. The use of force had been the minimum amount necessary to prevent Mr. Lenetis from accessing his knives. As previously stated the officers did not use open or closed handed punches or kicks. The officers did not use any weapons on the struggling Mr. Lenetis.
The use of physical force on Andrew Lenetis by Officers Clayton and Beeman was appropriate and justified pursuant to section 53a-22(b) of the Connecticut General Statutes.
I wish to extend my condolences to the family of Andrew Lenetis. Although I have found that the use of force by the police officers was appropriate, those findings do not in any way lessen the tragedy of the untimely death of Mr. Lenetis. As has been noted in the past by other State’s Attorneys when reviewing use of force by the police, particularly by Brian Preleski of New Britain, the prevalence of situations where police officers negatively interact with persons suffering from mental illness cannot be ignored. The Division of Criminal Justice and other law enforcement agencies should consider whether the training police officers have received concerning such encounters and the protocols enacted are adequate.
As to the instant encounter, no further action will be taken by the Division of Criminal Justice.
Finally I would like to thank Deputy Chief Davis and Attorney Cohen for their assistance and cooperation.
Dated at New London, Connecticut this 28th day of January, 2021.
MICHAEL L. REGAN
NEW LONDON JUDICIAL DISTRICT