CSAO: Report of the State's Attorney for the Judicial District of Hartford Concerning the Shooting Death of Vicente Bermudez in Hartford on February 2, 2008.

Report of the State's Attorney for the Judicial District of Hartford Concerning the Shooting Death of Vicente Bermudez in Hartford on February 2, 2008

Introduction | Background | Location of Evidence and Use of Force  | Law | Conclusion

Introduction

On February 2, 2008, at approximately 6:45 p.m., the Connecticut State Police at Troop H in Hartford, Connecticut, and the East Hartford Police Department notified the Hartford State’s Attorney’s Office that officers from Hartford Police Department and East Hartford Police Department were involved in a shooting on I-84 East in East Hartford, that resulted in the death of Hartford resident, Vicente Bermudez. In accordance with Connecticut General Statutes Section 51-277a, the undersigned State’s Attorney for the Hartford Judicial District requested the assistance of the Connecticut State Police Central District Major Crime Squad in conducting an investigation into the circumstances that led to Vicente Bermudez’ death.

Central District immediately assumed control of the scene - a scene complicated by virtue of its highway location and the distance that the crime scene spanned. The unit performed a thorough and comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding this incident and provided the undersigned with reports, witness statements, photographs, maps and findings of forensic examinations. This State’s Attorney has reviewed all of the documents provided and has re-visited the scene where the incident occurred. The undersigned State’s Attorney hereby files the following report.

Background

On Saturday, February 2, 2008, at approximately 5:48 p.m., the Hartford Police Department received a complaint of a robbery at the Exxon Gas Station, located at 125 Weston Street in Hartford. The gas station owner, Tarvinder Singh, in a sworn statement to police, stated that at approximately 5:23 p.m., a Hispanic male, approximately 6 feet tall, 200 pounds, dressed in black jeans, a black jacket and red hat, later identified as Vicente Bermudez, entered the store and asked for $20.00 in gasoline, but only gave the attendant a $5.00 bill. When told of the shortage, Bermudez gave Singh an additional $5.00 bill, which allowed Bermudez to purchase ten dollars in gasoline. After pumping $10.00 in gas into a dark colored S.U.V., Bermudez returned to the store and asked for $10.00 more in gas. When Singh told him "no", Bermudez brandished a knife, similar in appearance to a kitchen knife, with a blade approximately five inches in length and put it to the attendant’s chest.

Singh gave the male $10.00 more in gas and called 9-1-1 when the male left the store. While he was on the phone with police, Bermudez returned to the store, which caused Singh to hang up. Bermudez once again brandished a knife, and asked for a box of "Newport" cigarettes and left the store.

The Hartford Police Department called the gas station owner back and dispatched officers to the scene. Officer Michael Diana arrived at the Exxon station at approximately 5:48 p.m. and observed a party matching the description provided by dispatch. Fearing that Bermudez was armed, Officer Diana directed him to step to the front of the vehicle and to place his hands on the hood. Officers Joseph Mauro and Bryan Mello arrived shortly thereafter to provide assistance. They reported that Bermudez appeared nervous, and walked slowly to the front of his vehicle; but disregarded the officer’s directive to place his hands on the hood.

Officer Diana attempted to handcuff Bermudez for officer safety and placed a cuff on his left wrist. Bermudez tensed his arms when the officer attempted to place his right arm behind his back. The officers attempted to gain control of his right arm as he resisted and tried to break free. Officer Mauro administered Capstun into Bermudez’s eyes, with little or no effect, as Bermudez continued to struggle and resist. At one point, Bermudez’s right hand broke free of the officers control and Bermudez reached into his pocket and pulled out a knife. Bermudez clutched the knife, with blade extended, in his right fist, at shoulder height. The officers pushed him off to distance themselves from the knife. Officer Diana drew his service firearm, aimed it at Bermudez and ordered him to drop the knife. Bermudez backed away, but continued to wave the knife in a threatening manner while saying, "I’ll stab you motherfuckers - shoot me, shoot me."

Bermudez entered the S.U.V. Officer Mauro attempted to disable the vehicle by puncturing the vehicle’s front tires with a pocket knife; but Bermudez fled from the gas station in the S.U.V., in a southerly direction on Weston Street. The officers followed in three marked police cruisers with lights and sirens activated.

Sergeant Reginald Allen, a patrol supervisor, heard the transmission of the motor vehicle pursuit which seemed to be headed toward a commercial district of Hartford, and ordered that the pursuit be terminated. Sergeant Robert Nelson, also a patrol supervisor, immediately counter-manded, and ordered two units to follow the suspect vehicle at a safe distance and maintain visual contact with it. Shortly thereafter, Officer Johnmichael O’Hare, assigned to Unit 233 with Officer Abillash Pillai as driver, continued to follow the vehicle. They reported that they observed the vehicle being operated erratically, including traveling in the wrong direction down a one-way street. Officer O’Hare reported that he observed the S.U.V. drive up onto a curb to pass stopped traffic, and then turn south onto Kingsley Street, toward Columbus Boulevard. He stated that they followed the S.U.V. with their emergency lights and siren off. The S.U.V. then turned north onto Columbus Boulevard, a one-way street that runs south. The operator of the S.U.V. reportedly drove over a grass divider and entered I-84 at the Morgan Street ramp. Officer Pillai pulled in front of the Explorer in an attempt to stop it and the Explorer violently rammed the rear end of their cruiser several times.

At approximately 5:57 p.m., Connecticut State Police at Troop H, and East Hartford Police heard transmissions regarding Hartford Police Department’s active vehicle pursuit along I-84 eastbound from the Market Street area, and the request for assistance in stopping a dark colored Ford Explorer with Kentucky registration 876 D-W-H. The broadcast included information that the operator was in possession of a knife and had rammed police vehicles. Connecticut State Police monitored the Department of Transportation cameras located in the dispatch area at Troop H and provided assistance as requested. East Hartford Police joined the pursuit.

Witnesses reported that the pursuit continued on I-84 east in East Hartford with Bermudez deliberately colliding into police vehicles that attempted to box-in the Explorer. On the two occasions when the Explorer was boxed-in, officers exited their cruisers and ran toward Bermudez’s vehicle. Bermudez would then move the Explorer forward, and then quickly shift the Explorer into reverse, causing cruisers to be pushed into other cruisers that were part of the box-in; and causing officers who had exited their cruisers to have to scramble to get out of the Explorer’s path. At one point, a Hartford officer was believed to have been run over by Bermudez, as the officer was initially pinned between a cruiser and Bermudez’s vehicle when Bermudez drove forward. Shortly thereafter, the officer screamed and disappeared from view. That Officer, Jorge Ortolaza, sustained a six-inch laceration, as well as bruising and swelling to his right leg.

Officer Joseph Mauro, operating Unit No. 29, reported that when he attempted to exit his cruiser at the first box-in, Bermudez drove directly into the driver’s side of his vehicle, causing his door to be pinned shut, leaving Officer Mauro trapped in the cruiser. He reported that Bermudez continued to drive into the cruiser, causing it to be pushed off the highway. Officer Mauro was forced to exit the cruiser from the passenger side.

Officers fired shots at the suspect at two locations; however, Bermudez continued to operate his vehicle recklessly and erratically, colliding with cruisers, in an attempt to evade police officers. Investigation showed that Vicente Bermudez’s vehicle eventually traveled off the south side shoulder of I-84 eastbound, and struck a utility pole before it came to rest among small trees and shrubbery. During this collision, Bermudez was ejected from the vehicle and came to rest off the south side shoulder adjacent to his vehicle. Vicente Bermudez was treated at the scene by officers, until emergency medical workers arrived. He was transported to Hartford Hospital where he was pronounced deceased at 6:44 p.m.

Connecticut State Police - Troop H

Troopers reported that the pursuit was a "slow speed" pursuit, at speeds between 20-25 miles per hour. There were "many" police vehicles behind the Explorer with their lights activated. The front tires on the Explorer were damaged and appeared to be flat. From their observations, the officers attempted a "box-in" maneuver, where Hartford police used their cruisers to surround the Ford Explorer, blocking it. As officers approached the Explorer on foot, the operator of the Explorer put the vehicle in forward and reverse, ramming cruisers and placing the officers in jeopardy of suffering serious physical injury and/or death. Connecticut State Police at Troop H dispatched personnel to the scene and contacted D.O.T. headquarters in Newington, Connecticut, and asked personnel to monitor the motor vehicle pursuit traveling eastbound onto I-84 east. Peter Debrino, a D.O.T. control operator, gave the State Police investigators a statement detailing his observations

Connecticut Department of Transportation

Mr. Debrino reported that he saw approximately ten or more police vehicles engaged in a slow speed pursuit with a dark colored S.U.V. He could see that the S.U.V. had flat front tires, yet it was not stopping for police. At one point, he saw the police vehicles surround and stop the S.U.V. When the officers ran up to the S.U.V, the S.U.V. began to ram the police cars in front of him and then ram those police cars in back of the S.U.V. in an attempt to force its way out. He saw police officers diving out of the way and saw an officer fall over the hood of a police car when it appeared that the S.U.V. was in reverse. He reported that the S.U.V. broke free and continued eastbound, down I-84. He saw the police vehicles force the S.U.V. to stop once again, and saw the officers approach. He reported that the S.U.V. once again forced its way out of a box-in maneuver. Debrino stated that he heard the "shots fired" call over the scanner radio, but did not see who fired. State Police investigators requested that D.O.T. provide any recorded images of the highway incident, but were told by the Manager of Highway Operations that the day to day images are not recorded.

Location of Evidence and Use of Force

Based upon witness statements, bullet casings, projectiles, debris and the positions of police vehicles, the Connecticut State Police determined that this incident was comprised of three "scenes" along I-84 Eastbound in East Hartford. Two of the scenes were shooting areas, and the third scene was the area of final rest of the suspect vehicle. The total distance from scene No. 1 to scene No. 3 was determined to be 1.4 miles. Troopers reported that each of the three scenes was systematically searched, and evidentiary items were documented and seized before proceeding to the next scene.

Investigators photographed damaged, marked Hartford Police cruisers and one damaged marked East Hartford Police cruiser. In processing the scenes, State Police utilized 35mm and digital photography and audio/video recordings. Copies of all photographs and C.D.-Roms containing documented evidence were provided to this State’s Attorney. Troopers also seized twelve (12) videotapes and seven (7) computer hard drives from each Hartford Police Department vehicle containing a camera mounted on the inside of the cruiser. Of these, only one in-car camera recorded events from the highway pursuit; that was a cruiser operated by Officer Jaime Rios. Several of the other Hartford Police Department in-car camera systems were inoperable. The majority of the cruisers involved in the incident were not outfitted with in-car cameras. None of the East Hartford Police Department patrol vehicles involved in the incident were outfitted with in-car camera systems. State Troopers Scott Menard and Luis Reyes were operating vehicles with working in-car cameras and audio. The firing of handguns can be heard on the tape, but the shooting was not captured on video. A review of the videotapes showed the pursuit to be consistent with the statements provided by the witnesses.

Scene No. 1 was located in the shoulder area and right lane of I-84 East, adjacent to the off ramp to Exit 58. There are three east bound travel lanes.

The use of force incident at this scene occurred when the suspect was "boxed-in" by pursuing police vehicles. Shots were fired at the suspect by police at this scene. The vehicle escaped and continued east for approximately one half mile.

Connecticut State Police investigators identified witnesses to this scene. Seventeen were officers of the Hartford Police Department; two were East Hartford Police Officers; and four were officers of the Connecticut State Police at Troop H. All provided reports regarding their observations. Evidentiary items seized at this scene included:

(1) Federal 45 Auto +P bullet casing, found on the roadway surface eastbound, east of Exit 58 off ramp in East Hartford.

(1) Federal 45 Auto +P bullet casing, found on the roadway surface eastbound, east of Exit 58 off ramp in East Hartford.

(1) black "Monadock" auto lock expandable baton (fully extended) found on the roadway surface eastbound, east of Exit 58 off ramp in East Hartford. The baton was located close to Hartford Police Department cruiser No. 29.

(1) "Speedo" brand flattened sunglasses with two disconnected dark lenses, found on the roadway surface eastbound, east of Exit 58 off ramp in East Hartford.

(1) Control paint sample, from the driver’s side rear wheel well of the Hartford Police cruiser No. 29, parked on the shoulder of Rt. 84 eastbound past Exit 58. Unit No. 29 was operated by Officer Joseph Mauro.

Scene No. 2 was on I-84 eastbound, east of scene No. 1, and consisted of a breakdown lane to the extreme left of the traveled roadway and six travel lanes numbered one to six from right to left. To the left of the six lanes is an "H.O.V." lane marked by a diamond shape on the pavement and jersey barriers to the north of the "H.O.V." lane. A swale area with drains starts in this area and continues east.

The use of force incident in this area occurred when the suspect, while in his vehicle, was boxed in by police. Shots were fired at the suspect at this scene; still, the vehicle broke free and continued east.

Connecticut State Police investigators identified witnesses to this scene, including fourteen (14) from Hartford Police Department; three (3) from East Hartford Police Department; and three (3) from the Connecticut State Police at Troop H. All witnesses provided statements as to what they saw. Evidentiary items seized at scene No. 2 included:

(1) "Federal" 45 Auto +P bullet casing, from scene No. 2 lane No. 2 roadway surface on Route 84 eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass in East Hartford, Connecticut.

(1) "Federal" 45 Auto +P bullet casing, from scene No. 2 lane No. 5 roadway surface on Route 84 eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass in East Hartford, Connecticut.

(1) "Federal" 45 Auto +P bullet casing, from scene No. 2 lane No. 5 roadway surface on Route 84 eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass in East Hartford, Connecticut.

(1) "Federal" 45 Auto +P bullet casing, from scene No. 2 lane No. 6 roadway surface on Route 84 eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass in East Hartford, Connecticut.

(1) "Federal" 45 Auto +P bullet casing, from scene No. 2 lane No. 2 roadway surface on Route 84 eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass in East Hartford, Connecticut.

(1) "Federal" 45 Auto +P bullet casing, from scene No. 2 lane No. 6 roadway surface on Route 84 eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass in East Hartford, Connecticut.

(1) "Winchester" 40 caliber S&W bullet casing, from scene No. 2 lane No. 6 roadway surface on Route 84 eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass in East Hartford, Connecticut.

(1) "Winchester" 40 caliber S&W bullet casing, from scene No. 2 lane No. 6 roadway surface on Route 84 eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass in East Hartford, Connecticut.

(1) "Federal 45 Auto +P bullet casing, from scene No. 2 lane No. 6 roadway surface on Route 84 eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass in East Hartford, Connecticut.

(1) "Winchester" 40 caliber S&W bullet casing, from scene No. 2 lane No. 6 roadway surface on Route 84 eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass in East Hartford, Connecticut.

(1) "Winchester" 40 caliber S&W bullet casing, from scene No. 2 lane No. 6 roadway surface on Route 84 eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass in East Hartford, Connecticut.

(1) "Federal" 45 Auto +P bullet casing, from scene No. 2 H.O.V. lane road surface on Route 84 eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass in East Hartford, Connecticut.

(1) "Federal" 45 Auto +P bullet casing, from scene No. 2 H.O.V. lane road surface on Route 84 eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass in East Hartford, Connecticut.

(1) "Federal" 45 Auto +P bullet casing, from scene No. 2 HOV lane road surface on Route 84 eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass in East Hartford, Connecticut.

One copper color bullet projectile, scene No. 2 adjacent to jersey-barrier on Route 84 Eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass, East Hartford, Connecticut.

One copper color bullet projectile, scene No. 2 adjacent to jersey-barrier on Route 84 Eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass, East Hartford, Connecticut.

Bullet fragment, scene No. 2, adjacent to jersey-barrier, Route 84 Eastbound west of Simmons Road overpass, East Hartford, east of scene No. 2, median area.

One bullet projectile, between scene No. 2 and final resting place, Route 84 east of Simmons Road overpass, East Hartford, east of scene No. 2 median area.

(1) "Federal" 45 Auto +P bullet casing, between scene No. 2 and final resting place, Route 84 east of Simmons Road overpass, East Hartford, east of scene No. 2 and median area.

Control paint sample, from the passenger side rear quarter panel of Hartford Police cruiser 225-HFD, Car No. 233, disabled in swale, Route 84 Eastbound before Exit 59, East Hartford.

Control paint sample, from the driver’s side rear quarter panel of Hartford Police cruiser 225-HFD, Car No. 223 disabled in swale, Route 84 Eastbound before Exit 59, East Hartford. Car No. 233 was operated by Officer Pillai with Officer Johnmichael O’Hare as passenger.

Scene No. 3 was located approximately 9/10 mile east of the area designated scene No. 2. It consisted of a break-down lane to the extreme right of five travel lanes. To the left of the five lanes is a swale area; and a single H.O.V. lane and jersey barriers are to the left of the swale. The final resting place of the suspect vehicle was at this location, off the south side shoulder of I-84 East, east of the Forbes Street overpass. Witnesses to this scene included thirteen (13) officers from Hartford Police Department; two (2) officers from East Hartford Police Department; and three (3) from the Connecticut State Police at Troop H. All provided statements as to their observations.

In addition to the aforementioned items, Investigators also seized:

(1) One switch blade pocket knife with wood grain handle on one side, 2 ½-inch cutting edge, from the cowling of Hartford Police cruiser 225-HFD, (Car No. 233), which was disabled in the swale on I- 84 Eastbound before Exit 59, East Hartford;

(2) One dark handle serrated edge steak knife with 3-inch cutting edge, found on the front passenger door interior map pouch in Hartford Police cruiser 653-HFD, (Car No. 24), which was parked east of Forbes Avenue overpass on Rt. 84 Eastbound just before Exit 59, East Hartford. Car No. 24 was operated by Hartford Police Officer Zachary Freeto; and

(3) One 1988 Ford Explorer that Vicente Bermudez was operating.

Hartford Police Officer Jose Perez stated that once Bermudez was secured, he removed from Bermudez’s pocket his license, a wallet, a cell phone, an open pack of cigarettes and a knife. Officer Perez stated that he placed the knife in a plastic surgical glove to preserve it and turned all those items over to Officer Jaime Rios.

Hartford Police Officer Ryan Rea

Officer Ryan Rea has been a Hartford Police Officer since February 2004. At the time of this shooting, he was assigned to the Southeast Conditions Unit, a specialized unit which deals with quality of life issues and nuisance abatement. On February 2, 2008, he was working 3 p.m. until 11 p.m. and was dressed in a Hartford Police sweatshirt, blue jeans and sneakers. A Hartford Police Department badge was displayed from a chain around his neck.

He was interviewed on April 29, 2008, regarding the incident on February 2, 2008. He stated that he was driving car 436, a marked Hartford Police Department cruiser assigned to the Southeast Conditions Unit, with Officer Kevin Ouellette seated in the passenger front seat and Officer Richard Sarju in the passenger rear seat. He stated that upon hearing the transmission of the pursuit of the Ford Explorer, he entered the pursuit on I-84 in East Hartford. He reported that he saw the Ford Explorer being operated in an erratic manner and saw marked police cruisers with emergency lights and sirens activated.

Officer Rea reported that when he got on to the highway just past exit 58, the Roberts Street exit, he saw the suspect vehicle driving along the embankment of Exit 58. The S.U.V. then turned left and drove back onto the highway, aimed directly at the passengers side of Rea’s cruiser, forcing Rea to swerve to avoid being hit. Officer Rea reported that the Explorer continued traveling parallel to his cruiser, and steered directly toward other cruisers, striking them violently from the rear, with the front end of the Explorer. He reported that he believed the operator of the Explorer was using the vehicle as a deadly weapon, attempting to kill or assault pursuing officers. At one point several police vehicles boxed-in this S.U.V., in what Officer Rea believed was an attempt to end the pursuit in a safe manner. Officer Rea said that he observed the operator of the Explorer shifting the S.U.V. into forward and reverse ramming police cruisers, in what appeared to be an attempt to escape.

Officer Rea reported that officers attempted to open the doors of the S.U.V. to pull the suspect out. At this point, the suspect reportedly turned the steering wheel to the left, pinning a Hartford officer, later determined to be Jorge Ortolaza, between the Explorer and a cruiser. Officer Rea stated that he heard the officer scream and saw him fall between the two vehicles, leading him to believe that the officer had been run over. He reported that there were other officers around the S.U.V. as the suspect continued to try to escape, causing the officers to take evasive actions to avoid being hit. From approximately 15-20 feet away, Officer Rea reportedly discharged two rounds at the suspect. Subsequently, according to Officer Rea, the suspect vehicle continued eastbound on I-84 and the suspect was boxed-in along the jersey barrier on the left side of the highway, so he exited his cruiser. Officer Rea heard gunshots and officers ran back to their cruisers as the suspect continued eastbound on I-84. The vehicle was observed to be weaving in the middle of the road across two lanes of traffic. The suspect’s vehicle then went up an embankment on the right side of the highway and crashed into several trees before coming to a stop. Officer Rea and other officers reported that the suspect rolled down the embankment and came to a stop near the highway.

Officer Rea informed Sgt. Nelson that he had discharged his weapon. State Police investigators seized his duty weapon - a Smith & Wesson Model 45 M&P semi-automatic handgun; his clothing; and had Officer Rea submit to a gunshot residue examination. Laboratory reports reveal that the two .45 caliber bullet casings found at the shooting scene designated as "Scene No. 1" were fired from the Hartford Police Department issued handgun fired by Hartford Police Officer Ryan Rea.

East Hartford Police Officer Jeffrey Otis

East Hartford Police Officer Jeffrey Otis stated that upon hearing the Hartford Police Department broadcast and the direction of travel, he entered Route 2 from Main Street, heading west toward Hartford. He traveled onto I-84 East, where he stated he was able to see a row of "police lights ... moving at a slow speed." The officer reported hearing the "shots fired" call; but did not know whether there was an exchange of gunfire or whether the operator of the S.U.V. was shooting at the police. Officer Otis stated that he observed the S.U.V. sideswiping cruisers and pushing them out of the way; so he parked his cruiser toward the rear of the S.U.V., at an angle facing the S.U.V. He exited his cruiser, drew his weapon, pointed it at the driver and approached the S.U.V. to assist the other officers who surrounded the S.U.V. He reported that he could see at least two officers standing in front of the S.U.V. He stated that he saw the S.U.V. move forward toward the officers who were standing in front of the S.U.V. and heard gunshots. He reported that the officer standing in front of the S.U.V. was hit by the S.U.V. and disappeared from his sight, as the operator of the S.U.V. pushed through the cruisers where the officer had been standing. Believing that the officer had been hit and that other officers were in jeopardy of suffering serious physical injury, Officer Otis reported that he fired two rounds from his weapon. He stated that he ran back to his cruiser and continued eastbound, as the S.U.V. continued eastbound. He reported that the S.U.V. struck another cruiser while driving in the far left lane. He reported that the S.U.V. then traveled across the travel lanes of I-84 to the right side off into the brush, striking a pole.

Investigators had Officer Otis turn over his uniform and his department issued .40 caliber Glock model 22 semi-automatic handgun, which he fired during the incident. Additionally, a gunshot residue collection examination was performed. Laboratory results indicated that the four (4) .40 caliber bullet casings found at the shooting scene designated "Scene No. 2" were fired by East Hartford Police Officer Jeffrey Otis.

Hartford Police Officer Johnmichael O’Hare

Johnmichael O’Hare has been a Hartford Police Officer since December 2004. On February 2, 2008, he was assigned to work with the Northeast Conditions Unit, from 6 p.m. Saturday evening, until 2 a.m. Sunday morning. He stated in an interview conducted on April 28, 2008, that he was in the Hartford Police Department locker room at the onset of the incident on February 2, 2008. He was assigned to car 233 with Officer Abhilash Pillai, who is also assigned to the Northeast Conditions Unit. Officer Pillai was the assigned driver for the evening.

Officer O’Hare stated that as he prepared for his shift, he heard a report of an officer in need of assistance at a gas station at the corner of Jennings Road and Weston Street. Along the way to the gas station, he heard a second transmission that the suspect fled in a Ford Explorer and that units were in pursuit southbound on Weston Street. Officer Pillai joined in the pursuit and was able to pull alongside the Explorer, which had a flat driver side front tire. Officer O’Hare, who was seated in the passenger side front seat, began to yell to the operator and motion with his arms in an attempt to get the operator to stop the vehicle; but the operator disregarded all commands. He reported that they broke off the pursuit upon hearing Sgt. Allen order a termination of the pursuit; but resumed upon hearing Sgt. Nelson’s order. Officer O’Hare observed the Explorer being operated erratically and driving in the wrong direction on a one-way street.

Officer O’Hare reported that there were times when the police cruiser was side by side with the Explorer and the operator looked directly at him. Officer O’Hare reported that he saw no expression or sign of emotion. He stated that he observed the operator of the Explorer intentionally slamming into marked police cruisers, which were either stopped or parked on the highway, or had surrounded the Explorer in an attempt to prevent the operator’s escape. Officer O’Hare observed an officer, who was running alongside the operator’s side of the Explorer, get pinned between a cruiser and the Explorer, and heard the officer yell "in a wild manner." Officer O’Hare stated that he believed that the officer had been killed or seriously injured; so, when the operator of the Explorer pulled alongside him, he fired at the operator. Officer O’Hare reported that operator continued to drive down I-84 east. The officers ran back to the cruiser, drove alongside the Explorer, as the operator drove into the passenger side of the cruiser, causing the officer to slide and lose control of the cruiser. Officer O’Hare stated that they had to pull to the breakdown lane to prevent being hit by other police vehicles behind them. Officer O’Hare stated that the Explorer was several hundred yards ahead of them, when he saw the S.U.V. drift across the right side of the road, and up along a hill on the right side, as it crashed along the sound wall. Officer O’Hare turned his service firearm over to his Sergeant, and then went to Hartford Hospital for treatment of neck and back pain sustained as a result of the Explorer repeatedly colliding with the cruiser; and stress associated with his involvement in the shooting.

Investigators had Officer O’Hare turn over his uniform and equipment, and seized a .45 caliber Smith & Wesson model 45 M&P semi-automatic handgun issued to Officer O’Hare. He was also asked to submit to a gunshot residue examination upon his hands. Laboratory reports indicate that the eleven (11) .45 caliber bullet casings found at the shooting scene designated as "Scene No. 2" were fired by Hartford Police Officer Johnmichael O’Hare, from his department issued handgun.

The Decedent

On February 3, 2008, Connecticut State Police interviewed Ada Pabon, identified as the girlfriend of Vicente Bermudez. The interview was conducted in the apartment of the deceased’s parents, with Maria Carmona, the deceased’s sister, translating.

Ms. Pabon stated that Vicente Bermudez was released from jail two weeks prior to the incident and that he had psychiatric problems and had started smoking P.C.P. upon his release. She stated that when he was using P.C.P., he was not in control of himself. Ms. Pabon further stated that she heard the deceased tell his mother, during a phone call, that he wanted to kill himself, but she thought that he was "just talking," because he was filling out job applications and cutting hair, a skill which he learned while in jail. Connecticut Department of Correction records revealed that Bermudez had been released on a re-entry furlough on January 17, 2008, from a seven-month sentence on the charge of Assault in the Third Degree.

Ms. Carmona confirmed Bermudez’ mental health issues and his use of "angel dust." She also reported that Vicente Bermudez was violent when he was using the drug; and, that two days prior, he assaulted his brother-in-law, Amedee Santiago, but the police were not called because Ada believed he would be returned to jail.

Ms. Pabon confirmed that she owned the Ford Explorer that Bermudez was driving. She stated that he had come to her apartment on February 1, 2008, at approximately 9:00 p.m. and stayed until February 2, 2008, and that he had no drugs or alcohol during that time. She reported that on February 2, 2008, he took the keys to her Explorer and left at approximately 6:00 p.m.; but he did not tell her where he was going. After the vehicle that Vicente Bermudez was operating finally came to rest, he was transported to Hartford Hospital. In one of his pockets was an envelope containing two, 1" x 1" clear plastic bags containing a dark, plant-like material. Toxicology results confirmed the presence of Phencyclidine (P.C.P.).

1988 Ford Explorer

The vehicle that Vicente Bermudez was operating was a 1988 Ford Explorer, Eddie Bauer Edition sports utility vehicle, black and tan in color, VIN: 1-F-M-Z-U-3-4-E-8-W-U-B-1-9-8-6-6, bearing Kentucky registration 876 D-W-H. The vehicle was registered to Ada Pabon.

On February 8, 2008, Central District detectives were granted a search and seizure warrant upon the vehicle, for evidence relevant to the investigation. At the time that the vehicle was processed, an exterior visual examination revealed heavy front end damage and multiple broken windows. Both front tires were missing, with damage on the front wheel rims consistent with the vehicle being driven on the rims. Heavy damage was also observed to the driver’s side "A" post and the driver’s door. Multiple gunshot damage was observed to the rear portions of the vehicle and into the rear of the driver’s seat.

Central District investigators documented all their findings with audio-visual tape recording, and one hundred ninety one (191) 35mm color and digital photographs of the interior and exterior of the vehicle, which were submitted and reviewed by this State’s Attorney. They provided a vehicle photography report, for reference purposes, that included the location of the eighteen (18) bullet strikes on the vehicle and the possible trajectory for those bullet strikes.

Items seized pursuant to the search warrant included a swab of a stain of suspected chemical irritant; two (2) bullet-like projectiles; one (1) bullet-like jacket fragment; one(1) bullet-like projectile fragment; a sample of the fabric and foam from the driver’s seat; a sample of black paint; a sample of gold paint; a sample of white colored paint from paint transfer; a sample of blue colored paint from paint transfer; and Kentucky DMV paperwork associated with 876 D-W-H.

A vehicle inspection was also conducted to determine if mechanical deficiencies contributed to the incident. No deficiencies were found. Weather conditions on February 2, 2008, were clear and cold, with no precipitation. Inspectors concluded that the primary damage to the vehicle was located across the front-end. Both headlamps were broken and there was damage to the front bumper, grill and hood. The left front fender had direct contact damage causing the buckling of sheet metal rearward with induced damage throughout the remaining portion of the fender. Damage was observed to the front windshield and left (driver) side "A" pillar. This damage extended to the roof where the sheet metal was forced to the rear and down into the occupant compartment. Sideswipe-type damage was observed along the left (driver) side, extending across the rear door to the quarter panel. All window glass on the left (driver) side was broken. The rear hatch was intact and functional. The rear window was broken. Along the right (passenger) side, minor denting and paint transfer was observed. The right (passenger) side mirror was damaged. Both front tires were missing and obvious evidence was observed to the rims indicating the vehicle was driven an appreciable distance with no tires. The inspection process was also documented with photographs.

Office of the Chief Medical Examiner

A postmortem examination on the body of Vicente Bermudez was performed on February 3, 2008. Witnessing the autopsy was Sgt. Stavros Mellekas of the Connecticut State Police. The examination showed that Bermudez was 72 inches tall and weighed 241 pounds. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. H. Wayne Carver II made the following findings in his autopsy report:

Evidence of Injury

  1. There are multiple lacerations and abrasions on the forehead extending from the lateral aspect of one eye to the other and from nasion to hairline for a total of 6" horizontal by 4" vertical. At least six lacerations and multiple abrasions are present. All of the lacerations have some abrasion around them. The underlying frontal bone is fractured in multiple fragments and has lost its structural integrity.
  2. There are multiple small dicing abrasions on the left forearm.
  3. There are superficial faint contusions running perpendicular to the axis of the left forearm over the wrist and predominantly on the flexor side but faintly visible on the extensor aspect as well.
  4. There are multiple small abrasions on the extensor aspect of the left elbow and proximal forearm.
  5. There are multiple abrasions over the lateral aspect of the right thigh at the level of the greater trochanter covering an area 6 x 6". They tend to be horizontal but are highly irregular. Where present, there are heaps of epithelium posteriorly.
  6. There is a laceration running from a point 2" above the lateral edge of the right eyebrow running superiorly and posteriorly to the center of the top of the head 5" in length including a deeply undermined anterior based flap. Part of the fractures of the skull described above are under this laceration. There is, however, almost no subgaleal hemorrhage and the displacement of the anterior portions of the fracture are underneath the posterior portions. This is consistent with a laceration caused by a separate injury from the fractures.

Subsequent dissection demonstrates that the fractures of the skull extend into the base of both anterior fossae, the left middle fossa with disruption of the sella turcica. In addition, there is a palpable unstable fracture of the odontoid. There is considerable laceration of the frontal lobes, contusion around the other lacerations and complete transection of the brainstem at the junction of the pons and medulla.

Evidence of Gunshot Injury

Dr. Carver determined that Vicente Bermudez sustained seven gunshot wounds.

1. "There is a gunshot wound in the center of the back of the head in the midline 5 ½ " from the top of the head just above the nuchal ridge...There is no fracture of the skull. At the end of the wound tract a large caliber jagged projectile is recovered which is inscribed "W-681."

2. "There is a gunshot wound at the base of the neck in the back centered at a point 10" from the top of the head and 1 ½ inches to the right of the posterior midline ... ."

"Subsequent dissection demonstrated that the gunshot wound passed from back to front and somewhat upwards. The wound tract passed adjacent to the spine but did not cause demonstrable injury to the spinal cord; and passed between the right carotid artery and jugular vein. There was no demonstrable injury to either major vessel. A large caliber projectile, with the base inscribed W-682 was recovered at the end of the wound tract in the subcutaneous space in the anterior aspect of the neck."

3. "There is a gunshot wound to the left back over the superior portion of the scapula, 13" from the top of the head and 5 ½ inches left of the posterior midline."

"Subsequent dissection demonstrates that the gunshot wound passed from back to front, from left to right and upwards, passes through the spinous process of the scapula, passes into the chest through a fracture of the angle of the third rib, passes through and through the apex of the left upper lobe. A large caliber partially jacketed projectile is recovered loose in the left pleural cavity combined with approximately 250 cc. of blood. The surface of the bullet is inscribed W-683."

4. "There is a gunshot wound of the back just to the right of the midline centered at a point 16" from the top of the head and 1 ½ inches to the right of the posterior midline."

"Subsequent dissection demonstrates that the gunshot wound passes from back to front and superior to inferior....At the end of this wound a large caliber partially jacketed projectile is recovered. The base is inscribed W-684...Subsequent dissection demonstrates that bone fragments have produced almost complete transection of the spinal cord at this level with maceration of a segment approximately 1.5 cm. vertical."

5. "There is a superficial gunshot injury to the back centered at a point 21 ½ inches from the top of the head and just to the left of the midline."

6. "There is a gunshot wound to the posterior portion of the right arm 2 ½ inches above the axillary fold, 11 ½ inches from the top of the head and 9 inches to the right of the posterior midline. The gunshot wound passes from front to back and slightly downward and exits through the anterior lateral aspect of the arm. With the arm in the anatomic position, the exit wound is 2 inches lower than the wound entrance and 5 inches more anteriorly. It consists of a 3/4 inch slit-like wound, without marginal abrasion. There are approximately twelve superficial abrasions surrounding this wound spread over an area 6 inches in diameter. They are irregular, vary in size and are consistent with secondary missile impacts."

7. "There is a gunshot wound to the left side of the back of the head just below the hair, 2 inches inferior and 1 ½ inches posterior to the left external auditory canal ...."

Upon a request by Dr. Carver, a neuropathology examination was performed on the body of Vicente Bermudez. Dr. Dean Uphoff, a neuropathology consultant, made the following diagnosis: "Cranio-cerebral trauma with fractures of skull, multiple contusions of brain and transection of ponto-medullary junction." Upon microscopic examination of the spinal cord, Dr. Uphoff diagnosed "acute transection of cervical spinal cord." There was a depression in the center of the cord which is said to have been the site where a bullet rested.

Evidence seized from the autopsy and turned over to Sgt. Mellekas were:

  1. One (1) bullet, U-681
  2. One (1) bullet, U-682
  3. One (1) bullet, U-683
  4. One (1) bullet, U-684 and foam fragment
  5. One (1) bullet fragment from neck
  6. One set of fingerprints

Connecticut State Police Sergeant Stavros Mellekas met with Dr. Carver and provided him with laboratory findings, photographs of the suspect vehicle, including bullet trajectory. Dr. Carver determined that two of the four gunshots associated with the four bullets removed from the body did cause serious injury and life threatening injury. The other two gunshots associated with the four bullets removed from Bermudez’ body, and a fifth documented gunshot - "a through and through" to the suspect’s body - as well as any other gunshots into the suspect’s vehicle, did not cause life-threatening injury or death to Vicente Bermudez, Dr. Carver concluded.

The cause of death was certified as Multiple Gunshot Wounds and Blunt Traumatic Head Injury; the manner of death: a Homicide. Toxicological tests confirmed the presence of phencyclidine (P.C.P.) in Vicente Bermudez’s bloodstream.

Based upon the investigation completed by Connecticut State Police Central District Major Crime Squad, the findings by the Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Wayne Carver, the four bullets removed from the body of Vicente Bermudez and the Connecticut State Police Forensic laboratory analysis findings, it can be concluded that the gunshots fired by Hartford Police Officer Ryan Rea and East Hartford Police Officer Jeffrey Otis did not contribute to the death of Vicente Bermudez. Laboratory results indicate that the four bullets removed from the body of Vicente Bermudez were .45 caliber bullets, fired by Hartford Police Officer Johnmichael O’Hare.

Law

Connecticut General Statutes Section 53a-22 authorizes the use of deadly force by a police officer under certain circumstances. Connecticut General Statutes Section 53a-22 (c) provides as follows:

"A police officer....is justified in using deadly physical force upon another person ... only when he reasonably believes such to be necessary to defend himself or a third person from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force."

Connecticut General Statutes Section 53a-3(5) defines "deadly physical force" as:

"Physical force which can reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical injury."

Our United States Supreme Court in Graham v. Conner, 490 U.S. 386 (1989) has indicated that 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.

Conclusion

The statements of all the witnesses in this case, including those who were monitoring I-84  east near exits 58 and 59 from a remote location, describe this incident as one of total chaos, where Vicente Bermudez jeopardized the safety and lives of many of the officers on the scene of this pursuit. By all accounts, it appeared that he drove his vehicle directly, intentionally and forcefully into several clearly identifiable police vehicles, causing the officers to take immediate evasive actions to avoid being struck by Bermudez’s vehicle. An officer reported being trapped in his cruiser; others reported that Bermudez rammed into their cruisers; and one officer was pinned between Bermudez’s vehicle and a cruiser. In fact, it was the screams of Officer Ortolaza, who was pinned between the vehicles and the fact that he later disappeared from other officers views that prompted the officers to fire their weapons. Officer Rea, Officer Otis and Officer O’Hare each reported that he thought that the officer had been seriously injured or killed as a result of being run over by the vehicle. Other officers on the scene heard gunshots and didn’t know whether the shots were fired at the officers or by the officers.

This State’s Attorney finds that the officers beliefs, that they needed to use deadly force to defend themselves or other officers from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force, were reasonable, from a subjective and objective viewpoint.

Therefore, it is the conclusion of this State’s Attorney that the officers actions on I-84 in East Hartford on February 2, 2008, was appropriate under Connecticut General Statutes Section 53a-22 and no further action by the Division of Criminal Justice is warranted.

THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

By

Gail P. Hardy
State’s Attorney
Judicial District of Hartford



Content Last Modified on 7/15/2014 2:52:37 PM