HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Three fatal police shootings in Connecticut since the start of the New Year have raised questions over the use of deadly force by law enforcement in a state that normally sees about a half-dozen such shootings each year.
The deaths of Michael Gregory in Ansonia, Mubarak Soulemane in West Haven and Edward Gendron in Waterbury have led to calls for legislation that would change the standard for the use of deadly force in Connecticut.
They also have caught the attention of civil rights activists, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is expected to attend a memorial service for the 19-year-old Soulemane on Sunday.
Police in Connecticut currently are allowed to kill someone in self defense; to prevent a third party from being killed or seriously injured or to prevent an escape.
David McGuire, the executive of the ACLU of Connecticut, called for legislation Wednesday that would instead require police to take into account the totality of the circumstances and use the least amount of force necessary to neutralize any perceived threat.
“I believe that until law enforcement officials know that they face meaningful recourse and sanctions if they use deadly force inappropriately, we will not end police killings in Connecticut,” he said.
The state Division of Criminal Justice was asked to investigate six fatal shootings by Connecticut police in 2019, two in 2018 and seven in 2017.
It has been 15 years since a fatal police shooting has resulted in charges against an officer and even longer since a any officer was convicted. That was New Milford officer Scott Smith, who pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in the 1998 fatal shooting of 19-year-old Franklyn Reid.
Gregory, 30, died on Jan. 2 in a confrontation with Ansonia police who had been called to a domestic disturbance at the apartment of his estranged girlfriend.
She had reported that Gregory was in her home and violating a no-contact protective order issued after he was arrested on a domestic violence charge.
Video from a police body camera shows Gregory was alone in the apartment and carrying a knife when he was shot.
Police said Gregory told them they would have to shoot him and the officer used his gun only after a stun gun failed to prevent Gregory from advancing toward the officer.
McGuire and others have accused officers of unnecessarily escalating the situation by breaking into a room where Gregory had locked himself.
Soulemane, 19, was shot on Jan. 15 in a stolen car after a state police chase from Norwalk into West Haven.
State police said Soulemane, of New Haven, tried to steal a cellphone, carjacked a vehicle and was driving erratically and at high speeds.
Police, who have released 94 minutes of video of that incident, said Soulemane had pulled a knife on officers who had surrounded the car.
As in the Ansonia shooting, officers said a gun was fired into the car only after the use of a stun gun proved ineffective.
Officers from some of the largest departments in the country rate their Taser stun guns as effective as little as 55% of the time, American Public Media reported in May. The report also found more than 250 fatal shootings by police nationwide from 2015 to 2017 occurred after a Taser failed to incapacitate the person killed.
More than 200 protesters gathered outside New Haven City Hall on Tuesday evening to demand a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting of Soulemane, who they said had mental health issues.
The state Division of Criminal justice later said it would use its own inspectors to collect evidence. That is a departure from the standard state procedure of having a prosecutor determine whether a shooting was justified based on evidence collected by state police.
“We have some level of confidence that these inspectors will do a better job than what the state police officers would be doing,” said the Rev. Boise Kimber, who has been assisting the Soulemane family.
Edward Gendron, 57, was shot after struggling with police inside his apartment on Monday in Waterbury.
City police, who were not wearing body cameras, had gone to investigate the report of a shot fired through the wall of a neighboring unit.
Gendron had a gun permit, Waterbury Chief Fernando Spagnolo said, and a gun was recovered at the scene.
Gendron was facing eviction due to non-payment of rent and excessive noise, the Republican American of Waterbury reported.
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