CSAO: Report of the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury on the Death of Joseph M. Della Ventura in the Town of Bethel on October 24, 2009.

Report of the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury on the Death of Joseph M. Della Ventura in the Town of Bethel on October 24, 2009

Circumstances of the Incident | Applicable Law | Conclusion

On Saturday, October 24, 2009, Joseph M. Della Ventura, age 56, died after he drew a firearm and was shot by Bethel Police Sgt. Michael Libertini. This occurred in a wooded area behind Mr. Della Ventura’s home at 150B Grassy Plain St., Bethel, CT at approximately 10:15 a.m.  Members of the Bethel Police Department, in addition to those already present, Connecticut State Police and the Office of the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury responded to the scene. 

Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes (C.G.S.) Sec. 51-277a, “(a) Whenever a peace officer, in the performance of his duties, uses deadly physical force upon another person and such person dies as a result thereof, the Division of Criminal Justice shall cause an investigation to be made and shall have the responsibility of determining whether such use of deadly force by the peace officer was appropriate under section C.G.S. Sec. 53a-22. (Footnote 1).

In accordance with the above statute, this State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury caused such an investigation to be conducted through the Connecticut State Police Western District Major Crime squad, with selected lay witnesses being spoken with again by members of the Office of the State’s Attorney. Sgt. Michael Libertini and the Bethel Police Department cooperated in the investigation.

It is the conclusion of the undersigned State’s Attorney, that upon review of the investigation, interviews with witnesses and applicable law, that the use of deadly force by peace officer Sgt. Michael Libertini of the Bethel Police Department was appropriate under C.G.S. Sec. 53a-22.  No further action will be taken by the Division of Criminal Justice as a result of the incident.

CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE INCIDENT

In October, 2009 Joseph Della Ventura, the decedent, lived with his wife Cathy, their 12 year old daughter and his elderly father. Mr. Della Ventura had been on several medications over the years for an addiction, pain relief and anxiety. He was also in mental health counseling and had been acting very irrationally.

On the evening of October 23, 2009, the day before the shooting, Sgt. Michael Libertini went to the Della Ventura home on a report of disturbance by a neighbor. The Della Ventura’s home was located at 150B Grassy Plain St. in the Town of Bethel. The location is a multi unit condominium complex with a parking area behind the complex and a wooded area behind the parking area.

Joseph Della Ventura, the decedent, was attempting to take car keys from his father, who had Alzheimer’s disease. Sgt. Libertini verified this information, took the keys from the father and gave them to Mr. Della Ventura. Mr. Della Ventura told Sgt. Libertini that he was having a bad day and had just learned that morning that his wife was going to leave him.

The next morning, October 24, 2009, at the Bethel Police Department, Sgt. Libertini was the duty supervisor and met with Cathy Della Ventura, Joseph Della Ventura’s wife. Mrs. Della Ventura was there to report that Mr. Della Ventura had a gun and may be suicidal.  He had threatened her with a gun earlier in the day, showing her the gun and telling her “We both have to go.”  Later he had contacted her telling her he was in the woods behind their home and was going to commit suicide.  She described the gun.

Sgt. Libertini, after making plans to have Mr. Della Ventura obtain crisis services, then went to the Della Ventura home at 150B Grassy Plain St. with Bethel police officers Adam Cleary and Heather Burnes.  Mr. Della Ventura was located in the wooded area behind the complex.  The weather was rainy.

Back in the wooded area, Sgt Libertini indicated that he identified himself and told Mr. Della Ventura, calling him Joe, that he needed to come out and talk to the officers.  Mr. Della Ventura yelled back “I’m not coming out, I didn’t do anything wrong.”  Mr. Della Ventura had something in his hands.  He was instructed to show his hands and drop the gun.  Mr. Della Ventura indicated that he had a cigarette in one hand and a phone in the other.  Sgt. Libertini instructed Mr. Della Ventura to drop the phone, which he did.

Mr. Della Ventura stated several times that he had a gun and that it was in his jacket pocket.  He patted it. The officers instructed Mr. Della Ventura to keep his hands up, with Sgt. Libertini encouraging him to come out so they could get him help.  Mr. Della Ventura replied, “You’re going to have to shoot me.”  Sgt. Libertini told him that he did not want to shoot him.  Sgt. Libertini asked Mr. Della Ventura if he remembered him from yesterday.  Mr. Della Ventura said that he did and liked him.

The officers moved closer to Mr. Della Ventura, trying to get tree cover and within distance to use their tasers.  Mr. Della Ventura told them not to move closer or he would take what he had in his pocket out.  He also said that if they sent a dog or tasered him he would take it out.   He was told by Sgt. Libertini that if he pulled the gun out and threatened the officers, he would have to shoot him.  Mr. Della Ventura replied, “Go ahead and fucking shoot me.”  He said that he was going to pick up the phone that he had dropped.  He was told not to and did it anyway, ignoring the police orders.

Mr. Della Ventura dialed a number, which turned out to be to his wife’s cell phone.  Mr. Della Ventura turned away from the officers and started to walk down an embankment and out of sight.  Believing that he was about to commit suicide, Sgt. Libertini instructed Ofc. Cleary to cover him and he would try to taser Mr. Della Ventura.  Sgt. Libertini fired his taser at Mr. Della Ventura but only struck him with one probe.  Sgt. Libertini then instructed Ofc. Cleary to try to taser Mr. Della Ventura while Sgt. Libertini covered Ofc. Cleary. 

At this point Mr. Della Ventura put his hand into his coat pocket, produced a small black hand gun and turned toward the officers, making Officer Cleary the first within range of Mr. Della Ventura’s gun.   Sgt. Libertini saw the probes from Ofc. Cleary's taser go toward Mr. Della Ventura and reported he heard a "pop" that he believed to be Mr. Della Ventura’s gun.  It was at this point that Sgt. Libertini fired his gun at Mr. Della Ventura striking him.  Mr. Della Ventura then fell to the ground.

Officer Cleary indicated that he heard Sgt. Libertini fire his taser.  He saw that one of the probes was not making contact with Mr. Della Ventura. He moved down the hill and to the left of a tree that was between himself and Mr. Della Ventura.  He saw Mr. Della Ventura turn and noticed a small black gun in his hand.  Ofc. Cleary deployed his taser as Mr. Della Ventura began to turn.  Ofc. Cleary heard a “pop” and jumped back to get tree cover, believing that Mr. Della Ventura had fired a round at him.  He saw Mr. Della Ventura stop and fall to the ground.

Officers Cleary and Burnes were told to stay behind the tree for cover. Sgt. Libertini instructed Ofc. Burnes to fire her taser at Mr. Della Ventura, which she did with no response.  Sgt. Libertini instructed the officers to cover him and he checked Mr. Della Ventura and rolled him onto his back.  Mr. Della Ventura’s gun lay on the ground next to him.   Sgt. Libertini grabbed the gun and threw it to the side.  It was later recovered by Ofc. Cleary.  Mr. Della Ventura’s gun was a .22 cal semi-automatic with six live rounds in the magazine and none in the chamber.  Ofc. Cleary was able to eject the magazine from Mr. Della Ventura’s gun but could not clear the chamber.  The magazine was loaded with .22 cal. rounds.  Ofc. Cleary secured the gun on his person and then in the trunk of a Bethel Police cruiser.

Sgt. Libertini checked Ofc. Cleary to see if he had been struck by a bullet from Mr. Della Ventura’s gun.  He had not.  Thereafter Mr. Della Ventura was given medical attention and transported to an ambulance.  Several .22 cal rounds were later located on the floor of the ambulance.  First aid was administered on the scene and Mr. Della Ventura was transported to Danbury Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Concerning the time of the shooting, Ofc. Burnes reported that she heard Sgt. Libertini and Ofc. Cleary “… moving quickly toward Joe’s location, both shouting commands to Joe.”  She proceeded to run to her left toward their location, at which point she heard several sounds of crackling which she recognized as a taser.  She then heard a loud “pop’, which she recognized to be a gun shot.

Lay witnesses that were spoken to gave various reports depending on where they were located and the time they arrived.  One witness indicated he heard 8-10 popping sounds coming from the woods, which he believed to be gun shots.  This is inconsistent with other evidence of only one shot being fired.

A niece of Mr. Della Ventura reported that she could hear her uncle in the woods and heard him say, “Get the fuck away from me.”  She then heard a new voice yell “Sir, drop your weapon. “ Then she heard a lot of movement and again heard “Sir, drop your weapon now.”  She then heard a loud gun shot.  The voices had been loud and were within 45 seconds of the gun shot.  She was not able to see what was happening because of the woods.

AUTOPSY RESULTS
An autopsy conducted on October 25, 2009 by Dr. Frank Evangelista of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner on Mr. Della Ventura’s body revealed that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the chest.  The manner of death was a homicide, i.e. the killing of one human being by another, as opposed to suicide or death by natural causes. Testing of Mr. Della Ventura’s blood revealed the presence of caffeine, ethanol at .09 % and methadone at .028 mg/L.

LAB RESULTS
The .22 cal pistol held by Mr. Della Ventura was found not to be operable as received by the lab.  The internal sear mechanism was not functioning which would not allow a cartridge to be fired.  There was evidence of a discharge in the breach of the firearm, though it could not be established when the firearm last functioned.

A gunshot residue kit performed on Mr. Della Ventura revealed the presence of lead on “left palm”, “left back” and “right back.” (Footnote 2)

The bullet recovered from the body of Mr. Della Ventura was found to have been fired by Sgt. Libertini’s pistol.

Consistent with the officers’ reports, three tasers were found to have been fired on the morning of October 24th at around 10:00 a.m.  The clocking devices on the tasers were not calibrated to each other so that the order of firing could not be compared.  Sgt. Libertini’s taser was exposed to the elements until October 25th.

APPLICABLE LAW

The applicable law in this case is C.G.S. Sec. 53a-22(c) which states in relevant part   “A peace officer, … …is justified in using deadly physical force upon another person… …only when he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to: (1) defend himself or 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 or she reasonably believes has committed or attempted to commit a felony which involved the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical injury and if, where feasible, he or she has given warning of his or her intent to use deadly physical force.

In the present case, Sgt. Libertini was presented with the display of deadly force upon a third person by the drawing of the pistol by Mr. Della Ventura, which put the life of Ofc.  Cleary in jeopardy.  Sgt Libertini and Ofc. Cleary first used their tasers to subdue Mr. Della Ventura with no effect.  It was after the use of the tasers that the shooting occurred.  It was not until the pistol was drawn by Mr. Della Ventura that any deadly force was used by Sgt. Libertini.  Up until the time of the shooting, only non-deadly force had been used, that being the tasers, by Sgt. Libertini and Ofc. Cleary.  It should be noted that Sgt. Libertini fired one shot at Mr. Della Ventura, no more than necessary to protect Ofc. Cleary. 

The inoperability of Mr. Della Ventura’s gun does not affect the findings, as the best information that Sgt. Libertine had was from Mrs. Della Ventura that it was operable in that she had been threatened with it that very morning.

Though Sgt. Libertini indicated he heard a “pop” that he believed to have been Mr. Della Ventura shooting, other evidence and reports of other witnesses does not support Mr. Della Ventura having fired the gun that morning.  This does not change the conclusion regarding Sgt. Libertini’s use of deadly force.  Sgt. Libertini and Ofc. Cleary were in the middle of a volatile fast moving situation where an instantaneous decision had to be made in light of warnings having been given, a gun being drawn on the officers and Ofc. Cleary being in a position of vulnerability.

CONCLUSION

This State’s Attorney finds that based on the facts of this case, Sgt. Libertini reasonably believed deadly force to be necessary to defend a third person, that being Officer Cleary, from the use or imminent use of deadly force by Mr. Della Ventura.  Sgt. Libertini was aware that Mr. Della Ventura had threatened to kill his wife earlier in the day and was now, against police orders drawing a pistol in the direction of another officer.   Sgt. Libertini was justified in his use of deadly physical force upon Mr. Della Ventura.

Dated at Danbury, Connecticut this 7th day of May, 2012.

Stephen J. Sedensky III
State’s Attorney
Judicial District of Danbury


FOOTNOTES:

C.G.S. 53a-22(c) provides as follows: (c) 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 for the purposes specified in subsection (b) of this section only when he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to: (1) Defend himself or 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 or she reasonably believes has committed or attempted to commit a felony which involved the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical injury and if, where feasible, he or she has given warning of his or her intent to use deadly physical force.

From this State’s Attorney’s experience, the presence of lead alone may or may not be indicative of a gun having been held and fired recently.



Content Last Modified on 7/15/2014 2:51:53 PM