Circumstances of the Incident | Applicable Law | Conclusion
On Friday, October 8, 2010, Albert James Voute III, age 36, died after he drew a Phantom CO2 BB pistol, facsimile firearm, and was shot by Connecticut State Police Trooper First Class Jason Cassavechia. This occurred in the area of Interstate 84, Exit 4, at approximately 6:30 p.m.
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 (CSP) Eastern District Major Squad. (Footnote 2) CSP Collision Analysis Reconstruction Squad assisted them. Trooper First Class Jason Cassavechia 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 Trooper First Class Jason Cassavechia 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
Information from Police
On Friday October 8, 2010, (Footnote 3)at approximately 6:15 p.m., Emmanuel M___ (Footnote 4) was putting gas in his 1994 Isuzu Trooper automobile at the 68 Main St. Citgo Food Bag in Danbury . The car was unlocked and his keys were in the ignition. As Mr. M___ was pumping gas, he felt his car start to move and suddenly pull away from the pump out of the gas station. Mr. M___ began to run after his car, but stopped when someone shouted to him that the man in his car had a gun. Mr. M___ flagged down Danbury Police Officer David Pardovich, who reported the stolen car to police headquarters and started to look for the car.
The man who stole Mr. M___’s car was Albert James Voute III. Voute, age 36, had escaped from a prisoner van on September 15, 2010 in Virginia. The van was on its way to New Jersey where Voute was being delivered to the Bergen County Jail. Voute was scheduled to face charges from a 2005 New Jersey carjacking.
As Voute (Footnote 5) was driving the Isuzu away through Danbury, Police Officer Harold Usher spotted him. Ofc. Usher had heard Ofc.’s Pardovich’s report of the stolen car. Ofc. Usher activated his lights and siren, at which point Voute sped up and sought to flee. Ofc. Usher was joined in the pursuit by other Danbury police officers. As the pursuit continued, Voute turned onto Hilltop Manor and eventually crashed into a stonewall in the backyard of a residence.
Voute then ran from the police on foot, in spite of Ofc. Usher’s yelling, “Stop, Police!” Voute then turned around and pointed an unidentified object at Ofc. Usher. When Ofc. Usher drew his gun, Voute turned and ran towards Interstate 84 (I-84), going through yards and climbing a chain link fence that bordered the highway. When Ofc. Usher approached the embankment overlooking I-84 westbound, he saw Voute on the embankment of I-84 eastbound pointing what appeared to be a pistol in Ofc. Usher’s direction. As Usher went down the embankment he heard several gunshots and believed Voute was firing at him.
Usher went over to the eastbound embankment and saw that traffic was stopped on both sides of I-84. Usher heard several more gunshots as he moved around a stopped tractor-trailer that he was using for cover. As Usher came around the tractor-trailer, he saw Trooper First Class Jason Cassavechia and his dog K9 Luger on the eastbound shoulder of I-84. Cassavechia had his pistol pointed at Voute. Voute was lying on the ground at the top of the embankment moving as if trying to locate his weapon and get back up off the ground. Both officers shouted instructions at Voute to stop moving and stay on the ground. When Voute did not comply, Tpr. Cassavechia released his dog, which approached Voute and appeared to bite Voute. Ofc. Usher and Tpr. Cassavechia moved up the hill. As the officers reached the top of the hill, Ofc. Usher observed Voute on his stomach trying to get to his hands and knees and searching for something. Ofc. Usher saw a black handgun on the ground near Voute’s hand. Ofc. Usher kicked Voute to keep him from getting to the gun. Ofc. Usher then kneeled on Voute’s back, covered Voute with his gun and moved Voute’s gun away with his other hand. Voute said, “I’m dying” as he was rolled over onto his back and continued to struggle. As other officers arrived, Voute’s hands were secured behind his back with handcuffs, which Voute resisted. After Voute was secured, he lost consciousness and CPR was administered to him. Officer Michael Pederson, who is also a paramedic, arrived and assisted with medical treatment for Voute. Pederson noted that Voute had no pulse and cut Voute’s shirt off to locate a chest wound. Paramedics arrived at the scene and pronounced Voute dead.
The scene was secured by the Danbury Police Department and local Connecticut State Police, pending the arrival of an out of district CSP major crime squad, which this state’s attorney requested. Weapons, uniforms and other potential evidence were collected at the scene and back at the Danbury Police Department. Members of the Danbury 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.
Tpr. Cassavechia was taken to Danbury Hospital and treated for minor injuries. He was then taken to the Danbury Police Department where his gun was seized for examination at the State Police Forensic Lab. On October 12, 2010, he was interviewed and provided a statement.
Tpr. Cassavechia indicated that on Friday, October 8, 2010 he was working the evening shift from 2:30 p.m. to midnight. He was wearing his state police uniform and driving his state police patrol car or cruiser, with a light rack on top. At around 6:00 p.m. he was on I-84 in the area of Exit 5 looking for a truck for which a “be on the lookout” warning had been issued.
Over his personal police scanner, Tpr. Cassavechia heard the Danbury Police radio broadcast of a Signal 17 at the Food Bag convenience store. He learned that the Danbury Police were involved in a car chase and the car had crashed, with the driver fleeing on foot. Tpr. Cassavechia drove on I-84 to the closest area mentioned in the radio broadcast and saw a white male, later identified as Voute, running eastbound on the westbound shoulder of I-84. Unsure if this was the man Danbury Police were pursuing, he saw that Voute was running with his arms close to his chest as if he were trying to conceal something.
As Tpr. Cassavechia moved over into the right lane, Voute saw Cassavechia’s police cruiser and ran across the westbound lane toward the eastbound lanes in front of traffic. As Voute made eye contact with Tpr. Cassavechia who was 30-40 feet away, Tpr. Cassavechia could see a black handgun against the left side of Voute’s body. Tpr. Cassavechia activated the car’s public address system and said “Stop State Police! I have a dog!” Tpr. Cassavechia moved into the left lane as Voute crossed the Jersey barriers and slow moving traffic in the eastbound lane came to a stop.
Tpr. Cassavechia got out of his car and his dog Luger followed him. He approached the Jersey barrier and took cover, attempting to radio his headquarters at Troop A. Voute ran away from Tpr. Cassavechia across the eastbound traffic lane. When Tpr. Cassavechia got over to the eastbound side, he released the dog with the command “Get him”. The dog took off after Voute, who was climbing the embankment on the eastbound side of I-84.
Tpr. Cassavechia crossed the eastbound lane and the dog engaged Voute at the top of the hill, bit him on the chest and arm area. Voute was still holding his gun and Tpr. Cassavechia drew his gun and moved to the right shoulder of the highway. Voute struck the dog on the head and the dog then went down on all fours and continued to bite at Voute’s legs. Tpr. Cassavechia could still see the gun in Voute’s hands as Tpr. Cassavechia shouted repeatedly “Drop the Gun!” and “Get on the ground!”
Voute ignored the commands and pointed his gun at Tpr. Cassavechia using a one-hand hold. Tpr. Cassavechia was out in the open and had nowhere to go for cover. He thought he was going to die. He feared for his life and those in the cars near him. Voute had an advantage on Tpr. Cassavechia as he was on the hill and had tree cover. Holding his gun in a two handed hold, he fired three to five shots at the Voute. The dog returned to Tpr. Cassavechia. Voute moved and was now crouching down. He extended his arm with the gun and pointed it directly at Tpr. Cassavechia. Tpr. Cassavechia responded by firing multiple times emptying his magazine and reloading.
Voute was lying down but still moving side to side. Tpr. Cassavechia, still with no cover and believing the man was still armed, redeployed the dog, who engaged the man as he lay on the ground, biting him in the leg. As Tpr. Cassavechia moved up the hill, he saw that the man’s hands were empty and he could hear a male voice behind him yelling commands. Tpr. Cassavechia’s focus was on Voute as he reached the top of the hill and saw that Voute was still moving and kicking. Tpr. Cassavechia then saw Danbury Ofc. Usher as the person who had been behind him. Ofc. Usher pointed out the suspect’s gun. Other Danbury Officers arrived to help. Tpr. Cassavechia reholstered his gun when Voute appeared to be under control and released the dog from the hold on Voute’s leg. Voute was rolled over and CPR was administered to him. Tpr. Cassavechia radioed his headquarters at Troop A, informing them of the officer involved shooting. He then went to his car to assess his dog’s and his injuries, which were minor. A few minutes later Danbury Police Sgt. Krupinski came over to him and told him Voute was dead.
Information from Lay Witnesses
Lay witnesses who were traveling on I-84 were interviewed. One of the witnesses, Nil B___ of Bethel provided information. He was traveling eastbound on I-84 between exits 4 and 5. He noticed that an eighteen-wheeler was stopped in the center lane and westbound traffic had slowed down. As he approached the front of the truck, he saw an officer appear about 30-40 feet in front of him. The officer had his gun drawn and was running toward the tree line. As the officer ran up the embankment, a black German Shepard came down the hill and sat beside the officer. The officer yelled out “Show me your hands.” Mr. B___ could see someone crouching in the tree line and branches and leaves moving. The officer said, “Show me your hands,” repeatedly and took a few steps back. Mr. B___ heard a noise from the woods but could not be sure if it was a gunshot. The officer took a few steps back in the breakdown lane and fired his gun two times. The officer again said, “Show me your hands,” 4 to 5 more times. Mr. B___ heard another sound from the woods like a cracking sound. The officer moved forward firing his gun several times and went half way up the hill. Another officer arrived and both kept screaming, “Show me your hands.” Other officers arrived and all proceeded into the woods. Mr. B___ indicated that the first officer yelled in a loud voice 4 to 5 times “Show me your hands,” before there was any gunfire. He also indicated he was “… impressed with the officer’s training, he had no cover & was completely vulnerable & he exhibited extreme bravery in his actions.”
Lawrence Br___ of West Virginia was also interviewed. At the time of the shooting, he was operating a tractor-trailer eastbound on I-84. Traffic was slow. He saw a man jump over the jersey barriers from the westbound lane into the east bound lane. Mr. Br___ stopped his truck along with everyone else. Mr. Br___ watched as the man ran across three eastbound lanes and up the hill off the right shoulder with a police officer and dog in pursuit. As the man ran up the hill, the officer released the dog and the dog chased the man. When the man reached the top of the hill, he turned around and faced the dog that jumped up on its hind legs and put its paws on the man’s shoulders. As this was going on, the officer was moving slowly across the eastbound lanes toward the hill with his gun pointed up at the man and the dog. Mr. Br___ was surprised to see the man turn and face the officer at the top of the hill instead of running. Mr. Br___ said the officer began shooting at the man multiple times. He then saw another officer approach the top of the hill with the first officer. Other officers arrived and he saw them turn the man over from his stomach onto his back and give him CPR. He could see blood on the man’s pants and back.
Mr. Br___ stated he did not see anything in the man’s hands but explained that when the man ran across the highway he could only see his right side. When the man was on top of the hill, he was crouched down, moving back and forth in the area of a large tree.
Janet G___ a resident of the Hilltop Manor area was interviewed and indicated that she saw a light colored SUV in a neighbor’s back yard with a police car behind it. She said that she heard one or two gunshots then she heard somebody yell, “Drop the gun,” at least twice. The area that the yelling was coming from was the highway and water treatment plant. Ms. G___ then heard five or six more gunshots that were consecutive without pause.
The scene was processed and documented by members of the Eastern District Major Crime Squad. Items of evidence seized included blood samples where Voute fell to the ground, thirteen .40 caliber shell casings found in the right shoulder of the eastbound lane of I-84, which were consistent with State Police ammunition. Seized in the area where Voute was shot, was a Phantom CO2 BB pistol and bullet fragments removed from a tree in the area of Voute’s body. The Phantom CO2 BB pistol was not fired as the magazine was missing. Found by an area resident along the path Voute had run before coming to the highway was a .177 caliber black metal pellet gun magazine.
It was determined from an ammunition count that Tpr. Cassavechia had fired 13 rounds from his gun, a Sig Sauer P229 .40 caliber semi- automatic and that Ofc. Usher did not fire his weapon. The video camera on Tpr. Cassavechia’s cruiser had not been activated in the urgency of the situation.
An autopsy conducted on October 9, 2010 by Dr. Susan Williams of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner on Mr. Voute’s body revealed that the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds. 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. Voute’s blood revealed the presence of caffeine.
The Phantom BB Pistol held by Mr. Voute was found not to be operable as submitted, because there was no CO2 gas cylinder or magazine with .177/4.5 mm caliber BBs submitted with it. For testing purposes, gas and BBs were obtained from laboratory supplies. The pistol held by Mr. Voute was found to be operable.
The bullets recovered from the scene and body of Mr. Voute were found to have been fired by Tpr. Cassavechia’s pistol.
Voute’s cousin indicated in an e-mail sent after his death that Voute had been troubled for many years and had attempted “suicide by cop” before. The cousin believed that Voute had made up his mind that he was not going back to prison under any circumstances.
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, Tpr. Cassavechia was presented with the display of deadly force upon himself and third persons traveling on I-84 by Mr. Voute pointing a pistol at Tpr. Cassavechia. It was not until after Voute pointed his pistol at Trooper Cassavechia that Cassavechia fired his gun at Voute. Up until that point, he had only used the non-lethal force of the dog to apprehend Voute. The inoperability of Mr. Voute’s gun does not affect the findings, as the best information that Tpr. Cassavechia had was from his observations that Mr. Voute was armed and trying to shoot him.
This State’s Attorney finds that based on the facts of this case, Trooper Cassavechia reasonably believed deadly force to be necessary to defend himself and third persons, that being the citizens who were then traveling on I-84, from the use or imminent use of deadly force by Mr. Voute. Tpr. Cassavechia was aware that Mr. Voute had disobeyed all commands, was pointing a gun at him, and continued to point a gun at him even after the first shots were fired. Tpr. Cassavechia was justified in his use of deadly physical force upon Mr. Voute.
Dated at Danbury, Connecticut this 5th day of July, 2012.
Stephen J. Sedensky III
Judicial District of Danbury
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.
Normally, the Western District Major Crime Squad would handle the investigation. Because a local state trooper was involved, this state’s attorney requested another state police major crime squad do the investigation to avoid any appearance of conflict.
This was the Friday of Columbus Day weekend.
Lay witnesses’ names have been redacted to preserve their privacy.
Mr. Voute’s identity becomes known after his death. For consistency within this report under the Police Information section, he will be referred to as “Voute” rather than as “the man” or “the suspect.”