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Conn. Officials 'Want Answers' in Police Shooting; 8 Shootings This Year

December 17, 2004
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Conn. Officials 'Want Answers' in Police Shooting; 8 Shootings This Year

Middletown Press (Connecticut)

NEW HAVEN, Ct. - There have been eight police-involved shootings this year and top political officials are telling the police chief to figure out why.

City Hall is asking the department to review all the cases, which include two deaths, and find out what went wrong, what went right and how to prevent them from happening in the future.

Police Chief Francisco Ortiz on Friday called the number of shootings "unprecedented" and pledged to examine each case and, if necessary, overhaul police protocol and curriculum for using deadly force.

"We don't know why it's happening," said Jorge Perez, the president of the Board of Aldermen. "We definitely know that eight separate incidents is way too high."

The most recent shooting claimed the life of a mentally disabled man on Thursday afternoon. Police said he had attached a caregiver and then menaced officers with a large kitchen knife.

But what many police officers called unprecedented was how quickly City Hall has turned its back on the city's police officers for their own gain.

Sgt. Louis Cavalier said the department earlier this year formulated a plan to purchase stun guns, which can disable a person with an electric shock, but never followed through -- presumably for budgetary reasons. Each Taser costs about $600.

Many officers bristled at comments made by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. to the media immediately after Thursday's incident. The mayor said he wants answers, quickly, about the spike in shootings.

"If the mayor is looking for answers from the cops, it's opening up the pocket book," said Cavalier. If police had been armed with Tasers, as many other departments are, perhaps Thursday night's shooting could have been avoided.

"Our officers are upset that DeStefano seems to be pandering to the public" at the expense of city police officers, Cavalier said.

The eight shootings involved both uniform and plain-clothes officers. In only three of them was a person actually shot. Two of them died.

Ortiz said the department would undertake an immediate examination of the incidents and what led up to them.

"We've got to look in ourselves," he said. "How did we get into these situations to begin with?"

He added that in some cases, officers "are going beyond what we're asking them to do and putting themselves in jeopardy."

Ortiz said the department considered stun guns and decided against them, noting reports of as many as 70 deaths nationwide. He said the department would examine other types of less-than-lethal weapons.

Scot X. Esdaile, the president of the state and New Haven branches of the NAACP, said the police department was out of control and shooting up neighborhoods like in the old "Wild, Wild West."

"We've heard enough talk," Esdaile said. "The murder rate has doubled in the City of New Haven and the police department is one of the biggest contributors. This is out of control. You're dealing with a mentally challenged person. Just back up."

The shooting Thursday happened when police responded to a report of a mentally disturbed man at 991 Ella T. Grasso Boulevard. Police on Thursday gave the press an erroneous address.

The officers were confronted by a man with a large kitchen knife. After repeated commands from police to drop the knife, the man did and started coming down the outside staircase.

But then he suddenly crouched down and pulled out a second knife from the area of his legs.

Officer Rahgue Tennant fired when the man advanced toward him with the knife. Two other officer, David Runlett and Robert Lawlor, also fired, fearing the man might stab Tennant, police said.

Hiram Marrero, 34, later died from multiple gunshot wounds. He lived in an apartment with several other mentally disabled clients from the Continuum of Care, which rents several apartments in the complex to use as group homes.

In the last 10 weeks, there have been three high profile shootings involving police. In October, an undercover officer fired at drug suspects in a car near a playground full of children after he said the suspects tried to run him down.

Last month, an off-duty police officer shot and killed a tenant in a senior high-rise after the man allegedly confronted him with a knife.

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