CSAO: Report of the State's Attorney for the Judicial District of New Britain Concerning the Death of Samuel Victor McLeod in the Town of Wethersfield on February 1, 2011.

Acknowledgments / Statutory Authority / The Evidence / Findings of Fact / Conclusion / Footnotes

Acknowledgments

In issuing this report, the undersigned received important assistance from a number of state agencies. These agencies include the Connecticut State Police, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and the State Police Forensic Science Laboratory. Their assistance and expertise permitted the undersigned to have a complete and thorough investigation into this event. In addition, I would like to acknowledge the assistance of the members of the Wethersfield Police Department, all of whom cooperated with the State Police and the New Britain State’s Attorney’s Office.

STATUTORY AUTHORITY FOR INVESTIGATION AND APPLICABLE LAW

Pursuant to Connecticut General Statute 51-277a, the undersigned, State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of New Britain, has conducted an investigation of the death of Samuel Victor McLeod.

The scope of this investigation is limited. Section 51-277a of the General Statutes requires that, whenever a peace officer, in the performance of his duties, causes the death of another person by the use of deadly physical force, an investigation shall be conducted to determine whether the officer’s use of force was appropriate under section 53a-22(c). That statute, under which the Connecticut Penal Code delineates the permissible use of force by peace officers, sanctions the use of deadly physical force only in two situations: (1) where the officer reasonably believes such force to be necessary to defend himself or a third person from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force; (2) to effect the arrest or prevent the escape of a person whom the officer reasonably believes has committed or attempted to commit a felony which involved the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical injury. In this case, only the first of these two subdivisions is apposite.

In evaluating an officer’s reasonable belief under section 53a-22(c)(1), the test is both subjective and objective. First, the officer must believe that the use of deadly force is necessary to defend himself or another from the imminent use of deadly physical force. Second, that belief must be objectively reasonable. See State v. Smith 73 Conn. App. 173, cert. den. 262 Conn. 923 (2002).

The test is not whether it was in fact necessary for the officer to use deadly physical force in order to defend against the imminent use of deadly physical force. The test is whether the 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. See State v. Silveira 198 Conn. 454 (1986); State v. Adams 52 Conn. App. 643 (1999).

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 the scene rather than 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 (1989)

THE EVIDENCE

On February 1, 2011, Officer Justin Lord of the Wethersfield Police Department began his patrol shift at 4:00 in the evening. He was scheduled to work a double shift which would conclude at 8:00 a.m. on the following day. Officer Lord wore a standard Wethersfield Police uniform and drove an assigned Wethersfield Police Department marked patrol vehicle. His vehicle was equipped with a stationary dash mounted camera which captured both video and audio. The audio was captured via microphone attached to Officer Lord’s uniform. On this shift, there were three other patrol officers working in the Town of Wethersfield supervised by a patrol sergeant.

Officer Lord had been a Wethersfield Police Officer for approximately three years in 2011. Prior to joining the Wethersfield Police Department, he had been a member of the Hartford Police Department for approximately three years. On February 1, 2011, he wore his department issued Glock .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun in a holster attached to his belt. Officer Lord last qualified to use this weapon on November 18, 2010.  In addition, on this day, Officer Lord was tested on the Wethersfield Police Department’s General Order 1-013. General Order 1-013 is the Wethersfield Police Department’s policy on the use of deadly force.  The undersigned has reviewed this policy and it is generally harmonious with section 53a-22(c) of the Connecticut General Statutes.  In short, on February 1, 2011, Officer Lord was both qualified to possess the weapon he was issued and had been adequately trained on the law concerning the use of deadly force. The first six hours of Officer Lord’s shift were largely uneventful.

At about the same time Officer Lord was beginning his shift on February 1, 2011, Samuel Victor McLeod was in the process of taking his wife to Bradley International Airport. Mr. McLeod was operating a 2004 Subaru Legacy registered to his wife.  After dropping her off at approximately 5:00 in the evening, it is uncertain what Mr. McLeod did for the next five hours. What is certain is that Mr. McLeod was in an ongoing struggle with substance abuse issues. He was a convicted felon as a result of prior convictions for Possession of Narcotics and Burglary and was scheduled to appear in court on February 2, 2011 to face a charge of Operating Under the Influence.

The weather on February 1, 2011 was cold with snow and freezing rain throughout the day and into the evening.  Progress Drive, located off of Wells Road in the Town of Wethersfield, was covered with a light coating of snow by 10:00 p.m.  It is a long road lined with trees on each side of it.  There are no homes or businesses on Progress Drive, only the Soundbridge School which is located at the end of the road, furthest from Wells Road.  Soundbridge School was not open and there were no extra-curricular activities taking place on the night of February 1, 2011.

Shortly after 10:00 p.m. on February 1, 2011, Officer Lord turned down Progress Drive to complete a patrol check of the Soundbridge School. After completing his patrol check, he proceeded back towards Wells Road and parked facing south towards Wells Road. After what he estimates was approximately five minutes, he observed a vehicle travelling at a high rate of speed northbound on Progress Drive toward the Soundbridge School.  The vehicle was followed by a plow truck operated by Brian Lawton. Accompanying Mr. Lawton in the truck was Christopher Flaherty. Lawton and Flaherty drove northbound to the Soundbridge School to do plowing. As Lawton and Flaherty proceeded northbound, they were passed in the opposite lane by a small silver car travelling southbound on Progress Drive. As they rounded a bend in Progress Drive, both were able to discern in the rearview mirror of their truck that Officer Lord had activated the emergency lights on his cruiser and pulled over the small silver car. Lawton and Flaherty subsequently completed their plowing at Soundbridge School and travelled back southbound down Progress Drive.

Mr. Lawton and Mr. Flaherty reached a point on Progress Drive where they observed Officer Lord in the process of effectuating his motor vehicle stop. Officer Lord’s vehicle was parked behind the small silver car and he was speaking to the driver of the small silver car. Flaherty and Lawton were stopped behind Officer Lord’s patrol vehicle. Mr. Lawton was still driving the plow, and he did not feel that he had adequate room to pass Officer Lord with the plow. Both describe Officer Lord having the operator of the small silver car exit the vehicle and Officer Lord patting him down. Both then describe Officer Lord walking the operator of the silver vehicle to an area between the small silver car and the police cruiser and waving the plow through. Mr. Lawton then drives to his next job with Mr. Flaherty.

Mr. Lawton and Mr. Flaherty are the only third party witnesses to any portion of the encounter between Officer Lord and the operator of the small silver car, later identified as Samuel Victor McLeod. Neither Lawton nor Flaherty observed any portion of the physical altercation that took place between Officer Lord and Mr. McLeod. However, their statements concerning the interaction that they observed between Officer Lord and Mr. McLeod are consistent with both the report filed by Officer Lord and the audio/video captured by the dash-mounted camera in Officer Lord’s patrol car.

Officer Lord provided a detailed account of his stop of Mr. McLeod. Among his initial observations were that Mr. McLeod was shaking uncontrollably and his speech was slightly slurred. Mr. McLeod told Officer Lord that he was trying to get to the Webster Theater in Hartford and admitted to having consumed beer that evening, but denied consuming drugs.[1] Officer Lord asked Mr. McLeod if he had ever been arrested and Mr. McLeod informed Officer Lord that he had been arrested for drunk driving and had a court date the following morning. Officer Lord conducted a sobriety test while Mr. McLeod remained in his vehicle. Mr. McLeod failed to follow Officer Lord’s instructions concerning the performance of the test.

At this point in the stop, Officer Lord returned to his patrol car and conducted records checks of Mr. McLeod. After conducting these checks, Officer Lord returned to Mr. McLeod’s vehicle for the purpose of having him perform standardized field sobriety tests. Mr. McLeod exited his vehicle, providing his keys to Officer Lord. While Mr. McLeod exited his vehicle, Officer Lord observed what he believed to be crack cocaine located on the floor of the vehicle. Officer Lord conducted a pat down of Mr. McLeod and noticed that Mr. McLeod’s jaw was making what he described as a nervous tic. Officer Lord believed the tick could be the result of the binge use of cocaine. He inquired of Mr. McLeod concerning this tic. Mr. McLeod told him he was good.[2] Officer Lord then brings Mr. McLeod to an area between his patrol car and Mr. McLeod’s vehicle to perform field sobriety tests.[3]

Mr. McLeod performed poorly on the field sobriety tests administered by Officer Lord. At one point, Officer Lord expressed doubts concerning Mr. McLeod’s veracity concerning the amount of alcohol he had consumed based on his performance on the field sobriety tests and Mr. McLeod stated that he had four beers that evening. Significantly, during the course of this discussion, Officer Lord told Mr. McLeod that he thought he observed crack cocaine in his vehicle. Mr. McLeod denied that there were any narcotics in his vehicle. After further discussion, Mr. McLeod volunteered to have his vehicle searched by Officer Lord. Unshackled, Mr. McLeod is then seated in the rear of Officer Lord’s vehicle while Officer Lord conducts a search of Mr. McLeod’s vehicle. During Officer Lord’s search of the vehicle he found a number of items that aroused his suspicions, including what he believed to be a burnt marijuana cigarette, the suspected crack cocaine he previously observed, a prescription pill bottle of the medication Methocarbamol (known to Officer Lord as a muscle relaxant) and several loose pills. Officer Lord returned to his patrol vehicle from time to time to discuss what he found with Mr. McLeod and Mr. McLeod provided explanations for many of the items Officer Lord located in the vehicle.

On Officer Lord’s return to his patrol vehicle to discuss the loose pills he located in the vehicle, he asked Mr. McLeod if he had anything illegal in his pockets. Mr. McLeod was unable to provide Officer Lord with an explanation of the loose pills and denied having anything illegal in his pockets. At this point, Officer Lord noted that Mr. McLeod appeared extremely nervous. Officer Lord observed that Mr. McLeod’s hands were shaking uncontrollably and his facial tic was extremely pronounced. Officer Lord even remarks to Mr. McLeod that he is “shaking real hard” prior to asking Mr. McLeod to step out of the patrol car to check Mr. McLeod’s pockets.

At the time Mr. McLeod exited Officer Lord’s patrol vehicle, he was not handcuffed. Officer Lord began to search Mr. McLeod’s pockets for contraband and noted immediately that Mr. McLeod had what felt, based on Officer Lord’s experience, like a crack pipe in his right front pants pocket.[4] After locating this item, the following exchange takes place:

Officer Lord: “There’s something hard in here, don’t reach.”

Mr. McLeod: “I’ll get it.”

Officer Lord: “No don’t reach for your pockets.”

Mr. McLeod: “I’ll get it for you.”

Officer Lord: “No. No. Don’t reach.”

Mr. McLeod: “Why not?”

Officer Lord: “Dude”

During the latter portion of this exchange, the sound of a struggle can be heard. Officer Lord reports that at this point, Mr. McLeod began striking him. Officer Lord fought back. The two exchanged blows for approximately five seconds until Mr. McLeod breaks free of Officer Lord and runs toward his car. A struggle ensues, part of which is captured on Officer Lord’s dash mounted camera. Mr. McLeod initially runs past his vehicle and turns to confront Officer Lord. The two of them attempted to exchange blows. Mr. McLeod then runs back past Officer Lord in an attempt to enter his vehicle. Mr. McLeod attempts to get into his car and Officer Lord is able to slam the door on him. Their fight continues outside of the vehicle until Mr. McLeod again attempts to enter his vehicle. This time, Mr. McLeod is successful in entering his vehicle and Officer Lord pursues him in an attempt to get him to exit the vehicle. Officer Lord reports that Mr. McLeod reached into his glove box with his right hand while fighting him off with his left hand. At this point, Officer Lord reports that Mr. McLeod reached with both hands towards his service weapon.

Officer Lord notes that his entire service belt had shifted and his duty weapon was now almost centered between his legs. Officer Lord can be heard saying to Mr. McLeod, “I’m gonna tase you. I’m gonna tase you. Get off me. Get off me.” As Officer Lord is saying this, he appears to be attempting to exit Mr. McLeod’s vehicle and then appears to be pulled back into the vehicle. Officer Lord reports that at this point, Mr. McLeod has a firm grip on his service weapon. After continued struggle during which blows are exchanged, Officer Lord is able to exit Mr. McLeod’s vehicle. While Officer Lord attempts to retreat, Mr. McLeod exits the vehicle as well, still gripping Officer Lord’s service weapon. The two of them proceed back toward Officer Lord’s patrol car and continue to fight outside of the camera’s frame. Officer Lord reports that he is able to turn himself around so that Mr. McLeod is now behind him, but still struggling for his service weapon.

During this struggle, Officer Lord realizes that the safety hood is down on his duty holster. The significance of this to Officer Lord is that Mr. McLeod could now directly access Officer Lord’s service weapon. Officer Lord removed his service weapon with his right hand while Mr. McLeod maintained his grip on it with his left hand. The two of them struggled for the weapon, but Officer Lord was able to raise the weapon and point it back beneath his left armpit. Officer Lord reports that he pulled the trigger several times and shots are heard on the audio tape of the incident. The first shot is fired approximately thirty-seven seconds after the physical altercation between Mr. McLeod and Officer Lord began. In all, a total of five shots were fired by Officer Lord and the physical altercation between Officer Lord and Mr. McLeod was over in less than a minute.

Within seconds of the last shot being fired, Officer Lord radioed his dispatcher. He is heavily winded and obviously exhausted from his struggle with Mr. McLeod. Less than thirty seconds after the last shot was fired, Officer Michael Wren of the Wethersfield Police Department arrived on scene. Efforts were made by both Officer Wren and Officer Nuno Martins to administer first aid to Mr. McLeod. An ambulance eventually arrived and transported Mr. McLeod to Hartford Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 11:14 p.m.

Shortly after the shooting, the Wethersfield Police Department informed State’s Attorney Scott Murphy[5] that an officer had been involved in a fatal shooting. State’s Attorney Murphy requested that the Connecticut State Police conduct an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding this shooting. Members of the State Police Central District Major Crime Squad arrived on scene approximately two hours after the shooting took place. The State Police Central District Major Crime Squad conducted a thorough investigation with the full cooperation of the Wethersfield Police Department.

On February 3, 2011, an autopsy was performed at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner by Dr. Frank Evangelista. Dr. Evangelista noted five entrance gunshot wounds and determined the cause of death to be multiple gunshot wounds and manner of death to be a homicide.[6]

FINDINGS OF FACT

Based on an exhaustive review of all the information available, including the physical evidence gathered at the scene, the autopsy report, the statements of witnesses, reports of the officers involved and review of the audio and video of this incident, it is found that on February 1, 2011, shortly after 10:00 p.m. Officer Justin Lord of the Wethersfield Police Department effectuated a motor vehicle stop on Progress Drive in the Town of Wethersfield. Officer Lord stopped Samuel Victor McLeod of Stafford Springs. Mr. McLeod was apparently lost when Officer Lord stopped him. It is likely that Mr. McLeod was under the influence of narcotics. He possessed on his person both crack cocaine and the means for consuming crack cocaine, failed the standardized field sobriety tests administered to him and was ultimately found to have cocaine and cocaethylene in his system. While initially cooperative during the course of this motor vehicle stop, when Officer Lord located what would later be determined to be a crack pipe in Mr. McLeod’s pants pocket, Mr. McLeod chose to fight Officer Lord rather than allow him to seize what was in his pocket. During the course of this physical altercation, Mr. McLeod grabbed and attempted to take control of Officer Lord’s service weapon. This, as well as the totality of Mr. McLeod’s other actions, caused Officer Lord to believe that he needed to use deadly force to defend himself. Officer Lord used deadly force, firing his service weapon five times and killing Mr. McLeod. It is further found that Officer Lord’s belief concerning the necessity of using deadly force was objectively reasonable under the facts and circumstances presented here.

CONCLUSION

Based on all of the evidence, the undersigned has concluded that Officer Justin Lord of the Wethersfield Police Department reasonably believed that it was necessary for him to use deadly force to defend himself from the imminent use of deadly force. The use of deadly force by Officer Lord was appropriate under Section 53a-22(c)(1) of the Connecticut General Statutes.

Accordingly, no further action will be taken by the Division of Criminal Justice.

Dated at New Britain, Connecticut, this second day of December, 2011.

Brian W. Preleski
State's Attorney

FOOTNOTES

[1] Toxicology results detected no alcohol in Mr. McLeod’s system at the time of his autopsy. However, both cocaine and cocaethylene were found. Cocaethylene is formed in the liver when cocaine and ethyl alcohol have been ingested simultaneously. The combination of cocaine and alcohol has been associated with an increased risk of violent behavior. See , Violence Among Individuals in Substance Abuse Treatment: The Role of Alcohol and Cocaine Consumption by Stephen T. Chermack and Frederic C. Blow, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Vol. 6, Issue 1, p. 29-37.

[2] The entirety of Officer Lord’s stop is captured on audio. Large portions are captured on video. However, the quality of the video captured is suboptimal due to darkness and precipitation on the windshield of Officer Lord’s vehicle. Portions of the altercation between Officer Lord and Mr. McLeod were captured on video, but Mr. McLeod’s shooting occurs outside of the camera frame. 

[3] It is at this point that Officer Lord can be seen waving the plow truck operated by Mr. Lawton past his position.

[4] A glass tube containing cocaine residue and .2 grams of cocaine were found in Mr. McLeod’s right front pants pocket by Det. Michael Patkoske at Hartford Hospital. These items were seized by the Connecticut State Police.

[5] State’s Attorney Murphy retired prior to the completion of this investigation.

[6] A homicide is defined as any killing of one person by another. The question under consideration in this report is whether this homicide was justifiable under the law



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