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Deadly Use of Force FAQs

 

Purpose:

There is nothing we take more seriously than the loss of life. When a law enforcement officer in Connecticut uses deadly force in the course of his or her duties, it is imperative that a comprehensive investigation is conducted. Every law enforcement agency and the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office is committed to ensuring that a transparent and thorough investigation is completed any time deadly force is used. We are accountable to you. We pledge to work efficiently, impartially and to look at all of the factors surrounding the incident. We will provide timely updates and engage in open communication throughout the process when permitted by the State’s Attorney. We understand that this is crucial in maintaining the public’s trust and confidence.

These Use of Deadly Force Frequently Asked Questions have been created to increase transparency and assist the public with understanding what happens when a law enforcement officer uses deadly force in the State of Connecticut. For the purposes of this document, “police officer”, “peace officer” and “state trooper” all have the same meaning under Connecticut General Statute (C.G.S.) 7-294a. C.G.S. § 7-294a defines a police officer as, “A sworn member of an organized local police department, an appointed constable who performs criminal law enforcement duties, a special policeman appointed under section 29-18, 29-18a or 29-19 or any member of a law enforcement unit who performs police duties.”

 

Q: When can a law enforcement officer use deadly force?

C.G.S. § 53a-22(c) states that a peace officer, special policeman appointed under section 29-18b, motor vehicle inspector designated under section 14-8 and certified pursuant to section 7-294d or authorized official of the Department of Correction or the Board of Pardons and Paroles is justified in using deadly physical force upon another person when he/she reasonably believes such to be necessary to:

  1. Defend himself/herself 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/she reasonably believes has committed or attempted to commit a felony which involved the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical injury, OR
  3. Prevent the escape from custody of a person whom he/she reasonably believes has committed a felony which involved the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical injury and if, where feasible under this subdivision, he/she has given warning of his or her intent to use deadly physical force.

C.G.S. § 53a-3(5) defines “deadly physical force” as physical force that can be reasonably expected to cause death or serious physical injury. 

C.G.S. § 53a-3(4) defines “serious physical injury” as physical injury, which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious disfigurement, serious impairment of health, or serious loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ. 

There is a two-part test to determine the reasonableness of a police officer’s belief. First, the police officer must believe that the use of deadly force is necessary to defend himself/herself or another from the imminent use of deadly physical force. The police officer must honestly believe that this level of force is necessary in the immediate circumstances. In other words, the subjective portion of the test considers whether the police officer believed that the use of deadly physical force was his/her only reasonable choice under the circumstances.

The second part of the test requires that the police officer’s belief be objectively reasonable (State v. Smith 73 Conn. App. 173 (2002). The test is not whether it was in fact necessary for the police officer to use deadly physical force in order to defend against the imminent use of deadly physical force. The test is whether the police 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.

C.G.S. § 53a-19 states that a person is justified in using reasonable physical force upon another person to defend himself/herself or a third person from what he/she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of physical force, and he/she may use such degree of force which he reasonably believes to be necessary for such purpose. Deadly physical force may not be used unless the actor reasonably believes that such other person is (1) using or about to use deadly physical force or (2) inflicting or about to inflict great bodily harm.

Generally, police departments in Connecticut model their internal agency policies to align with Connecticut law. For example, the Connecticut State Police Administration and Operations Manual, Section 13.4.5 states that deadly force may be used: (1) When he/she reasonably believes deadly physical force is necessary to defend themselves or a third person from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force. (2) To prevent the escape of a dangerous fleeing felon who the trooper reasonably believes committed or has attempted to commit a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of death or serious physical injury and when a warning has been given if feasible (Tennessee v. Garner, 471 US 1, 11-12 (1985)).

Police officers use a variety of techniques to gain compliance and control. Techniques include verbal persuasion, various less-lethal force options and sometimes unfortunately deadly force. The level of force and type of techniques utilized depends on the facts of the situation. The amount of resistance, strength of the offender, knowledge of past violence, the presence of weapons, the number of threats, the immediacy of the threat, the danger posed to those involved and the ineffectiveness of other techniques are some of the factors that are considered when determining the appropriate level of force.

The conduct of our police officers is dictated by Federal Law, State Law and individual department policies and procedures. These laws and policies are applied to each individual situation. Police officers must make a determination of what is reasonable when deciding to use force. Police officers frequently find themselves in situations where they must make split-second use of force decisions to control a situation while ensuring the safety of everyone involved.

The U.S. Supreme Court observed that, “[t]he test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application" (Bell v. Wolfish 441 U.S. 520, 559 (1979)). The use of deadly force is not judged in “20/20 vision of hindsight” but instead from the perspective of a reasonable police officer with similar training and experience, facing the same circumstances under the same conditions. The criminal justice system must also take into account the fact that these situations are often times tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving (Graham v. Connor 490 U.S. 386 (1989)).

 

Q: What will happen immediately following a use of deadly force incident?

Note: These steps are general practices followed by local departments and the Connecticut State Police when one of their personnel is involved in a use of deadly force incident. Depending on the agency involved and the specifics of the incident, the below procedures and notifications may be different. The order in which the below steps are listed is not necessarily the order in which they’ll occur.

  • The police officer will immediately notify the communications center/dispatch and the on-duty patrol supervisor when he/she is able to safely do so and call for emergency medical services.
  • Police officers will immediately provide first aid to any wounded individuals when it’s safe to do so.
  • Involved police officers and any wounded individuals will be transported to a medical facility.
  • The on-duty patrol supervisor will ensure that the crime scene and any witnesses are secure.
  • Notification of the incident will be made to the following:
    • Involved agency executives (i.e. Chief of Police, Commissioner, Colonel)
    • State’s Attorney’s Office from the Judicial District where the incident occurred
    • State’s Attorney’s Office from the outside Judicial District who will have jurisdiction over the investigation, as determined by the Chief State’s Attorney
    • Major Crime Squad or other applicable investigative unit
      • Note: The Chief State’s Attorney will decide which agency will handle the investigation.
    • Internal Affairs
    • Public Information Office
    • Employee Union (if applicable)
    • Peer Support Services/Employee Assistance Program
    • Local elected officials (town manager/mayor)
  • Witnesses will be identified and interviewed.
  • Detectives from the applicable investigative unit will assume the investigation in conjunction with Inspectors from the Division of Criminal Justice.
  • Inspectors from the Division of Criminal Justice and/or the State’s Attorney will respond to the scene, review the scene and be briefed by on-scene personnel.
  • The crime scene will be systematically processed for evidence.
    • Note: If the use of deadly force occurred in a non-public location, detectives are generally required to submit a Search & Seizure Warrant in order to process the scene. This warrant will be reviewed by the State’s Attorney and signed by a judge.
  • The State’s Attorney’s Office will monitor and advise the investigators throughout the entire investigative process. In instances involving a Trooper’s use of deadly force, Inspectors from the Division of Criminal Justice will conduct the investigation and report directly to the State’s Attorney’s Office.
  • The involved agency’s Internal Affairs Unit/Office of Professional Standards will conduct an independent administrative investigation to determine if agency policy/procedures were followed. 

 

Q: Why is the involved police officer sent to the hospital, even if they are not injured?

Medical science has shown that individuals under acutely stressful events, such as in a deadly use of force encounter, can experience physical manifestations (i.e.: cardiac episode) that can be masked by the bodies overwhelming stress response of cortisol and adrenaline. Those chemicals can cause an affected individual not to realize that they have been injured or are experiencing a potential life threatening event. The safest location for these personnel to be is in an emergency department setting where they can be monitored and triaged by trained medical professionals.

 

Q: What happens to the police officer involved in the use of deadly force incident?

It is standard procedure that the police officer(s) involved in the incident will be removed from active duty and placed in an administrative assignment (non-patrol) until the internal administrative inquiry is completed. An administrative assignment means the involved police officer(s) are not working in a uniformed capacity and do not normally interact with the public.

If there are clear indications that the police officer(s) involved acted negligently and/or outside of department policies, they could be placed on an administrative suspension. An administrative suspension means that the officer is stripped of their police powers, department firearms, badge, identification and police cruiser.

For the State Police, these actions are guided by several state regulations concerning State employees, the Department’s Administrative & Operations Manual, and the terms of the employee’s collective bargaining agreement.

 

Q: When will the identities of the suspect and police officer be released to the media/public?

Like all investigations involving a death, the name of the deceased and the police officer(s) involved will be released once positive identification of the decedent has been made and their family members have been notified of the incident.

 

Q: Who will investigate a police officer’s use of deadly force?

A police officer’s use of deadly force initiates two concurrent, but separate investigations. One investigation will be a criminal investigation to determine whether the use of deadly force was appropriate under the law. The second investigation is an administrative investigation conducted by the employing department. This administrative investigation will examine whether the police officer’s actions were compliant with department policies and procedures in addition to reviewing tactics, equipment and department policy.

Public Act 19-90 provides that whenever a peace officer in the performance of his/her duties uses deadly physical force upon another person and such person dies as a result thereof, the Division of Criminal Justice (part of the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office) shall cause an investigation to be made and shall determine whether the use of deadly physical force was appropriate under C.G.S. 53a-22. Additionally, Public Act 19-90 requires that the investigation into any death resulting from the use of force by a police officer be conducted by a State’s Attorney from a Judicial District other than where the incident occurred. For example, if a fatal police-involved shooting occurs in Vernon (located in the Judicial District of Tolland), the Chief State’s Attorney will assign the investigation to a different judicial district such as the Judicial District of Hartford.

C.G.S. 51-281 gives the Chief State’s Attorney, the Deputy Chief State’s Attorney, State’s Attorneys, Assistant State’s Attorneys and Deputy Assistant State’s Attorneys the authority to act in any Judicial District regardless of where the offense took place. Furthermore, it gives the Chief State’s Attorney the authority to assign any of the above named individuals to any Judicial District at any time.

When the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney requests that the Connecticut State Police investigate a use of deadly force incident, the State Police Colonel will select one of the three Connecticut State Police Major Crime Squads to investigate. It is common practice that whenever a state trooper is involved in a use of deadly force incident, Major Crime Squad Detectives from a district other than the district where the state trooper works, will investigate the incident. For example, if a Trooper from Troop C – Tolland (Eastern District) is involved in a shooting, detectives from the Western or Central District Major Crime Squad will respond to the scene and investigate.

 

Q: Who determines whether or not the use of deadly force was appropriate?

When investigating a police officer’s use of deadly force, the Major Crime Squad, or assigned Inspectors, are not responsible for determining if the use of force was appropriate. The job of the investigators is to uncover and document the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident, and then report their findings to the State’s Attorney. The State’s Attorney will ultimately determine whether or not the use of force was appropriate.

 

Q: Why does it take so long to finish the investigation?

The State’s Attorney cannot come to a fair and impartial judgement regarding the justified or unjustified use of deadly force without carefully reviewing all investigative reports from the fact-finding entities. We owe it to the deceased, their family, the police officer(s) involved and the citizens we serve to conduct a comprehensive investigation, and not release speculative findings without reviewing all of the facts and circumstances. The result of this detailed and methodical approach is a lengthy investigation. 

Detectives and Division of Criminal Justice Inspectors have to conduct an investigation. Some steps that can cause these investigations to take a long period of time include:

  • Processing complex scenes
  • Seizing and processing vehicles after obtaining Search & Seizure warrants
  • Identifying sources of video footage and working with public and private entities to obtain copies
  • Laboratory testing results and reports from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
  • Forensic laboratory testing results and analysis from the Division of Scientific Services
  • Requesting and receiving medical records from hospitals
  • Receiving audio/video analysis from outside experts
  • Preparing, submitting and executing Search & Seizure Warrants for a variety of evidence
  • Interviewing the officer(s) involved
  • Obtaining Search & Seizure warrants to seize and analyze cellphones, computers and other electronic devices
  • Interviewing witnesses on scene and locating witnesses who left the scene before the investigators arrived.

 

Q: Can you release any information before the final report is released?

Yes – certain information can be released before the final report is released. The Major Crime Squad commanders, Division of Criminal Justice Inspectors, Connecticut State Police Command Staff and the DESPP Commissioner will consult with the State’s Attorney handling the investigation to determine what information can be released. Details that may be released before the final report, include, but are not limited to:

  • A basic synopsis of the incident
  • The identity of the deceased
  • The cause/manner of death (after receiving this information from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner)
  • The number and identity of the officers involved
  • The specific Judicial District and Major Crime Squad that will investigate
  • Additional pertinent details may be released at the discretion of the State’s Attorney
  • Preliminary report – In compliance with Public Act 19-90, within (5) business days after the cause of death is available, a preliminary status report will be released by the Division of Criminal Justice. This preliminary report will include: 1) The name of the deceased person, 2) the gender, race, ethnicity and age of the deceased person, 3) the date, time and location of the injury causing such death, 4) the law enforcement agency involved, 5) the status of the toxicology report, if available, and 6) the death certificate if available.

 

Q: When can the public see body-worn camera /dashboard camera video from the incident?

Per Public Act 19-90:

If a police officer is giving a formal statement about the use of force or if a police officer is the subject of a disciplinary investigation in which a recording from body-worn recording equipment or a dashboard camera with a remote recorder, as defined in subsection (c) of section 7-277b,is being considered as part of a review of an incident, the officer shall (1) have the right to review such recording in the presence of the officer's attorney or labor representative, and (2) have the right to review recordings from other body-worn recording equipment capturing the officer's image or voice during the incident. Not later than forty-eight hours following an officer's review of a recording under subdivision (1) of this subsection, or if the officer does not review the recording, not later than ninety-six hours following the recorded incident, whichever is earlier, such recording shall be disclosed, upon request, to the public, subject to the provisions of subsection (g) of this section.

 

Q: Why don’t you release more information immediately?

When deciding what information to release, there are several factors to consider. These factors include, 1) public safety, 2) respect for the family of the deceased, 3) integrity of the investigation, 4) the need to verify the accuracy of information prior to release, 5) legal restrictions on releasing certain information, 6) whether it will raise more questions than answers that cannot be explained at that time, leading to more confusion and misinformation. 

 

Q: Why doesn’t every Police Officer have a body-worn camera/ dashboard camera system?

While the Body-Worn Camera (BWC) program and the use of dashboard camera systems is being implemented by more and more agencies throughout Connecticut, there are still obstacles to outfitting every police officer at every agency with them. Testing the use and reliability of different products, selecting a vendor to supply the cameras and receiving funding to purchase the cameras themselves can delay the implementation of these systems. Departments also need to receive funding for the software and digital storage required to operate these systems.

 

The cost to a municipality for cameras and storage can quickly exceed $1 million. Both large and small agencies throughout our state have implemented BWC programs. Public Act 17-225 set in place a procedure for police agencies to receive reimbursement via grants. This reimbursement grant program is being facilitated by the Office of Policy and Management. For a complete list of Connecticut Police Departments with pending/approved applications for reimbursement click here.

 

Q: How do I get copies of reports, 911 calls, personnel records or other materials not being released?

All requests for material not being released by the Public Information Office can be emailed to Legal.DESPP@ct.gov

 

Q: How can the public learn the outcome of the use of deadly force investigation?

The State’s Attorney will complete a written report detailing (1) the circumstances surrounding the incident (2) whether the use of deadly physical force was appropriate under C.G.S. 53a-22 and (3) any future action that will be taken by the Division of Criminal Justice. This report is available to the public. Reports on the use of deadly force by police officers can be viewed online at https://portal.ct.gov/DCJ/Whats-News/Reports-on-the-Use-of-Force-by-Peace-Officers/Reports-on-the-Use-of-Deadly-Force-By-Police-Officers

 

Q: What should I do if I witness a use of deadly force incident?

Anyone who witnesses or has information regarding a deadly force incident is asked to come forward with that information to help investigators determine what happened. Anyone with information can:

 

  • contact any State Police Troop 
   Statewide Troop Contact Information 
  • contact DESPP Headquarters
   860-685-8000
  • contact the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office   
   Office of the Chief State's Attorney
  • email
   CSPtips@ct.gov