Judge Denies Requests for Dismissal in Guizan Lawsuit

The judge presiding over the civil case against six Connecticut towns, their police chiefs, and a number of officers involved in a botched 2008 no-knock raid has refused to dismiss the majority of counts filed by the plantiffs, homeowner Ronald Terebesi, Jr. and Susana Guizan, the mother of the man killed by police. The towns and police had requested the complaints be dismissed by reason of qualified immunity and on other grounds, but Judge Janet Bond Arterton ruled that such immunity is only available if the police are actually, you know, competent:

The Supreme Court explained in Harris that the need to train police in constitutional limitations on use of deadly force is “so obvious” that failure to do so constitutes deliberate indifference. Harris, 489 U.S. at 390 n.10. Inasmuch as the SWERT team is armed with lethal weapons and tasked with launching raids on homes, the law requiring proper training on the circumstances and method of their use given the potentially grave results to targeted persons is clearly established, and [Monroe Police Chief] Salvatore’s alleged failure to exercise professional judgment precludes qualified immunity for the failure–to–train claims at this stage. [p. 13]

How did the police fail to exercise professional judgment in the raid? From pages 4-5 of the ruling:

Cirillo, Ruscoe, Jones, Kirby, Candee, and Solomon developed the “Operation Plan” for the SWERT assault on Terebesi’s home to execute the warrant. It involved 21 armored, helmeted police officers in military attire, armed with semiautomatic and automatic weapons, sniper rifles, and explosives. When members of the SWERT team objected to the planned forcible entry into Terebesi’s home, and proposed alternatives such as calling the home and demanding that the occupants come out or sending uniformed officers to knock on the door, Ruscoe, Jones, Kirby, Candee, and Solomon overruled those objections and rejected their alternatives. Although SWERT standard operating procedures require negotiating before executing a tactical option, SWERT engaged in no negotiation, and the Operation Plan as developed did not include any negotiation.

Mark Cirillo is a sergeant in Darien. William Ruscoe, Kenneth Jones, and Ronald Kirby are officers in Trumbull. James Candee is the police captain in Easton, the town where the raid took place, and John Solomon is Easton’s chief of police. For the full list of defendants, see here.

In summary, the tactical team ignored its own protocols. A friend of mine who is a J.D., has trained in tactical police methods, and works as a detective in law enforcement (but not for any of the six towns involved), told me the internal dissension described by the judge is significant. He interpreted this as desk jockeys overruling trained officers to pursue a personal grudge against Terebesi.

The judgment is noteworthy for being the first unbiased official document describing the events of that day. From page 6:

During all of this activity, Guizan and Terebesi, who were unarmed, made no attempts to resist or flee. A DefTech 25 explosive detonated in front of Sweeney, who then fired his handgun six times within three seconds, mortally wounding Guizan. Weir fired his M–4 assault rifle once. Torreso continued to search Terebesi’s home, deploying at least eight more DefTech 25 explosives and starting a fire in the basement.

The police detonated eight flash bangs after Terebesi and Guizan were subdued, then set stuff on fire. You won’t find details like that in the report by State’s Attorney Jon Benedict, the ventriloquist’s dummy mouthing the version spoken by the police chiefs.

This is also the first time a government official has admitted a flash bang exploded in front of Sweeney, potentially provoking him to fire wildly into Guizan.

For the full back story, see my piece in the Fairfield County Weekly. The judge’s ruling can be downloaded here.

Video of Easton Raid Undermines Official Story

The Connecticut Post has published a video taken during the 2008 tactical police raid on a house in Easton, Connecticut, which culminated in the shooting death of Gonzalo Guizan. Police stated that Guizan, a friend who was visiting homeowner Ronald Terebesi, Jr. at the time, attacked the lead officer, provoking the officer to shoot Guizan. A summary of events can be found in my story for the Fairfield County Weekly.

The video doesn’t show much but the details are in the audio:

This is significant. According to the state attorney’s report, windows were broken and two stun grenades detonated inside the house. The door was broken down and a third grenade tossed through. The stack then entered.

After the door was forced, Sweeney says he stepped into the den and “felt high-velocity impacts on both his left boot and the shield, and thought he was being fired upon and had, in fact, been shot,” the report reads. Sweeney tried to pin Terebesi and Guizan with the shield in his left hand. “While Terebesi pulled on the shield,” says the report, “Guizan proceeded to grab the officer’s right hand in an apparent effort to wrest his pistol away. … Sweeney, beginning to lose his grip and fearing that he was about to lose control of his weapon, fired it until he was free of the man’s grasp.”

Nothing corroborates Sweeney’s version of events. No fingerprints or DNA were found on Sweeney’s gun. To my knowledge, the shield was never tested for Terebesi’s fingerprints. No one else saw Guizan attack or wrestle with Sweeney. And in fact Sweeney didn’t fire until he freed his weapon. This is a logical fallacy: the report says the pistol jammed after six shots. Sweeney fired until his gun broke.

Did the stack enter the house too quickly, resulting in Sweeney being struck by their own grenade? Did he become confused and disoriented as a result and wildly open fire? Was the story about an aggressive Guizan fabricated afterwards? The state’s attorney didn’t think so. He absolved the police of any criminal wrongdoing and then promptly retired.

In the video, the sound of the door breaking occurs at the 1:18 mark. The bullets stop at 1:20.

Two seconds.