CSAO: Report of the State's Attorney for the Judicial District of New London Concerning the Use of Deadly Physical Force by a Connecticut State Police Trooper Resulting in the Death of Robert Bergeson on June 18, 2014, in the Town of Salem.

Report of the State's Attorney for the Judicial District of New London Concerning the Use of Deadly Physical Force by a Connecticut State Police Trooper Resulting in the Death of Robert Bergeson on June 18, 2014, in the Town of Salem

Summary | Applicable Law | Conclusion

Section 51-277a of the General Statutes provides that, whenever a peace officer in the performance of his or her 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 determine whether the use of deadly physical force was appropriate under section 53a-22 of the General Statutes.

On June 18, 2013, such an incident occurred when Connecticut State Police Trooper Patrick Hawes used deadly force resulting in the death of Robert Bergeson in the Town of Salem.

Supervisory Inspector Philip Fazzino was notified after the shooting and inspectors immediately went to the scene. The Connecticut State Police Central District Major Crime Squad conducted the investigation in conjunction with inspectors from this office. Detective Patrick Meehan submitted the completed investigatory casebook which this writer has adopted and incorporated into his report.

It is the conclusion of the undersigned that the use of deadly physical force was appropriate. This report is filed pursuant to 51-277a(c) of the General Statutes.

SUMMARY 

On Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at approximately 6:39 p.m., the Salem Fire Department received a call of a structure fire at the residence of Robert Bergeson, located at 28 Witter Road, Salem, Connecticut. Personnel from the Gardener Lake Fire Company began arriving at the residence at approximately 6:42 p.m. A pick-up truck with a trailer, a passenger car and a tractor belonging to Robert Bergeson were observed parked in front of 28 Witter Road blocking emergency vehicles entry to the residence.  Fire and smoke were observed emanating from the residence and a detached garage. At approximately 6:43 p.m. State Police Troop K (Colchester) dispatched Troopers Patrick Hawes and Kristin Coit to respond to Witter Road to assist the Fire Department with traffic control and scene security. At the time of dispatch, both Troopers were at the Resident State Trooper’s Office in the Town of East Haddam, and arrived at Witter Road at approximately 6:53 p.m.

The owners of the residence at 28 Witter Road, Robert and Gale Bergeson were both known to the responding Troopers and fire department personnel due to a history of domestic violence and a recent divorce. James B. Savalle, Fire Chief of the Gardner Lake Fire Company, stated to State Police fire investigators that he had heard a radio transmission as he was at the fire scene that stated “shots fired.” As a result he had ordered all fire personnel to take cover. He did not hear any shots due to the noise of the fire suppression efforts. For safety reasons, Chief Savalle requested that Troopers Hawes and Coit check the wooded areas surrounding the residence for the possible presence of the homeowner Robert Bergeson. Robert Bergeson had told members of the fire department on several occasions in the past that he would burn down the house before he would allow it to be awarded to Gale Bergeson. With these statements in mind and the location of the vehicles blocking access to the residence, fire personnel immediately suspected the fire may have been intentionally set.  The State Fire Marshal was requested because of the suspicions. The Troopers were unable to locate Robert Bergeson in the surrounding wooded areas and returned to a position on Witter Road. 

One of the responding EMT’s from the Gardener Lake Fire Company was Cheryl Philopena. Philopena described her relationship with Robert and Gale Bergeson as being “friends but not in the same social circles” as she had known the couple for approximately thirty years. Philopena was in the roadway, in the area of a rock wall and brush located between 10 and 28 Witter Road, when she saw movement in the field behind 10 Witter Road. Philopena recognized that it was Bergeson in the field. He appeared to be speaking to himself, although not loud enough for her to hear what he was saying, until he started screaming “You motherfuckers” as he was waving something in his hand over his head. Philopena couldn’t see what he was holding but thought it might be a gun. She began to run down Witter Road toward the Troopers and was screaming, “Cops, cops, cops!” Troopers Hawes and Coit ran to meet her. She told the Troopers she was having a hard time breathing due to an asthma condition, but she managed to say, “It’s him, in the field, gun” as she pointed back toward the field where she had seen Bergeson. 

Troopers Hawes and Coit entered the field from the wood line along Witter Road between 10 and 28. Robert Bergeson was in the approximate center of the field yelling obscenities at the Troopers repeatedly calling them “Motherfuckers” and was waving a piece of wood over his head. Both Troopers in full duty uniforms with handguns drawn began to gradually approach Bergeson. Trooper Hawes established verbal contact and repeatedly ordered Bergeson to put down the wood and get down onto the ground. As the Troopers neared Bergeson, he raised the wood over his head and advanced toward Trooper Hawes. Trooper Hawes fired at the approaching Bergeson four times in succession, striking him and causing him to fall to the ground. Bergeson received medical attention from EMTs at the scene and was transported to William H. Backus Hospital Emergency Room, 326 Washington Street, Norwich, then to Rhode Island Hospital in Providence where he was pronounced deceased at approximately 10:37 p.m.

The autopsy was performed on June 20, 2013, by Rhode Island Assistant Medical Examiner Carolyn H. Rivercomb, MD. The injuries were documented as gunshot wounds, blunt trauma and thermal injuries. The toxicological report confirmed that no significant drugs or ethanol (alcohol) was detected. The cause of death was determined to be gunshot wounds of torso and left arm, the manner of death was homicide.

There were three identified gunshot wounds referred to as gunshot wounds “A, B and C.” Gunshot wound “A” was in the upper right chest area. The wound has identified entrance and exit areas indicating the direction of the gunshot in track with the shoulder, from right to left in a very slightly downward angle and from front to back. 

Gunshot wound “B” was in the upper left back area. The wound has an identified entrance area in the upper left back and an exit area in the upper left chest, indicating the direction of the gunshot from back to front, slightly leftward and downward. In this area of the upper left torso was a perforated large artery.

Gunshot wound “C” was in the left forearm area. The wound has an identified entrance area in the back and an exit area in the front. With the decedent’s arm in a downward anatomic position the wounds indicate the direction of the gunshot from back to front, slightly leftward and downward. With the decedent’s arm in a raised position the wounds indicate the direction of the gunshot from front to back, slightly rightward and upward.

Abrasions and lacerations were observed on the upper and lower lip areas. On the anterior upper right arm there was a contusion and abrasion which was in direct line with the exiting projectile from gunshot wound “A”. 

The burn or thermal injuries were observed and consisted of numerous areas of skin slippage with drying and mild erythema on both hands, face, scalp and buttocks. Scant soot was present in the hair and in the respiratory tract.

Detective Joseph Lombardi of the Connecticut State Police Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit was the case officer in charge of the fire cause and origin investigation.  Based on physical evidence, burn patterns, lines of demarcation and available witness statements Detective Lombardi determined that the area of origin in the main house was on the west side of the first floor sun porch, where a deliberately introduced accelerant was used to speed the fire’s growth and propagate the fire throughout the first floor as additional accelerant was introduced throughout the first floor. The sliding glass doors were in the open position at the time of the fire, allowing a continuous supply of oxygen, while the french doors leading into the kitchen were also open at the time of the fire causing the fire to reach combustible materials to their ignition temperature as the introduced fuel burned off. The cause of this fire had been classified as incendiary due to the ruling out of any and all possible accidental or natural causes. The ignition source was from direct human intervention by the introduction of an open flame such as a lighter or matches.

Detective Lombardi determined that the fire in the detached garage west of the main structure occurred at approximately the same time and was also an intentional act and, therefore, this fire had been classified as incendiary. Due to the catastrophic damaged sustained to the garage it was not possible to rule out any and all possible accidental causes, however, under the totality of the circumstances, Lombardi concluded that the ignition source was of direct human intervention by the introduction of an open flame such as a lighter or matches.

Detective Lombardi’s accelerant detection canine, Claus, made positive alerts for the presence of ignitable liquid on the left boot, the right boot and the lower portion of blue jeans seized from Robert Bergeson.

On June 19, 2013, at approximately 0040 Trooper Hawes returned to the scene on Witter Road with Detective Meehan to provide a walk-through general synopsis of the shooting incident. Trooper Hawes provided investigators with the location of where the shots were fired from to assist with evidence recovery efforts.

At the time of the June 18, 2013, incident, Trooper Hawes was a seven-year veteran of the Connecticut State Police, having been hired in January 2006. A review of Trooper Hawes’ State Police personnel files found no previous incidents pertaining to department use of force violations, no sustained Internal Affairs complaints and no disciplinary issues. Trooper Hawes was up to date with his most recent annual firearms training.

On July 9, 2013, at approximately 10:30 a.m. Trooper Hawes provided an audio recorded oral interview. The interview was conducted in the presence of Trooper Hawes union and legal representatives at the Law Offices of Rome McGuigan P.C. at 1 State Street, Hartford, Connecticut. The following is a synopsis of what Trooper Hawes reported in the interview:

On June 18, 2013, Trooper Hawes was working his regularly assigned position as the evening shift (1430-2400 hours) Resident Trooper in the town of East Haddam. At the time of the reported fire at 28 Witter Road Trooper Hawes was at his office in East Haddam with Trooper Kristin Coit. Troop K dispatched Trooper Coit to the fire and she asked Trooper Hawes if he would go with her, because there is a long history of violence at that house. Trooper Hawes had never been to the Witter Road house before, but Trooper Coit gave him a brief synopsis that the male from that house has a propensity for violence and had recently gotten out of jail after beating his wife with a lamp. Once at the scene of the fire, Trooper Hawes stated that some of the firefighters on scene were also telling the Troopers that they had been to the house plenty of times before.

Trooper Hawes first learned of the man in the field from a Fire/Police woman who was on scene helping to keep the road closed. Trooper Hawes was in the road in front of 28 Witter Road, when he saw the Fire/Police woman coming toward him and yelling “Cops, cops, cops.” Trooper Hawes and Coit ran toward the woman and when they arrived the woman told them that, “There is a guy out in the field, he’s screaming and he has a gun!”

Trooper Hawes stated that he and Trooper Coit immediately crossed a rock wall and short tree line and entered into the open field. Once in the field, Trooper Hawes drew his gun and began to approach the man. As they approached, the man was pacing back and forth flailing his arms and had a Golden Retriever dog with him. As they got closer to the man, they could hear him yelling “You’ll never take me back to jail, Fuck you I’m not going back to prison.” Trooper Hawes then began to give the man verbal commands to get down on the ground, however he ignored the commands and continued to reply “Fuck you” each time Trooper Hawes spoke. The man was flailing clenched fists and then bent down and picked up a piece of lumber from the tall grass. Trooper Hawes described the lumber as being about the size and shape of a Wiffle bat. The man looked toward Trooper Coit and said something to the effect of “Fuck you bitch, stay the fuck over there” then turned and faced Trooper Hawes. Trooper Hawes then described the man as having a scowl look on his face and getting “That look in his eye as his eyes opened up,” then the man yelled “Fuck you” again raised the wood over his head and advanced toward Trooper Hawes. At this time Trooper Hawes estimated the man was about (thirty) feet away. Trooper Hawes stated that he remembers thinking of the distance (twenty one) feet because that is about the maximum distance a taser can be used. He stated that he decided not to try the Taser because the man was still too far away and he was wearing a heavy leather jacket that the Taser would not penetrate.  Trooper Hawes thought that if the man got to within 21 feet, the man would be able to kill him with the club/lumber. The man continued to charge and that’s when Trooper Hawes estimated him to be about 21 feet away, he fired the first shot at the man. Trooper Hawes was not sure if the shot hit the man, but the man’s facial expression changed and he kept advancing, so Trooper Hawes fired again, not remembering how many more times.  The man then fell to the ground and Trooper Hawes immediately handcuffed the man and rolled him onto his side in a first aid recovery position. Trooper Coit then yelled for the paramedic to come over as they were on the other side of the field. While waiting for the medics, Trooper Hawes didn’t ask the man anything. The man had a confused look on his face, then he looked at Trooper Hawes and got a scowl look and then just seemed to fade away.

At the time of the June 18, 2013, incident, Trooper Coit was a six-year veteran of the Connecticut State Police, having been hired in January 2007. A review of Trooper Coit’s State Police personnel files found no previous incidents pertaining to department use of force violations, no sustained Internal Affairs complaints and no disciplinary issues. Trooper Coit was up to date with her most recent annual firearms qualification and had successfully completed all other necessary training.

On June 19, 2013, at approximately 1:15 a.m. hours Trooper Coit returned to the scene on Witter Road with Detective Meehan to provide a walk-through general synopsis of the shooting incident. At this time Trooper Coit was not providing specific details regarding the incident, merely providing investigators with the location of where the shots were fired from to assist with evidence recovery efforts.

On July 9, 2013, at approximately 1000 hours Trooper Coit submitted to an audio recorded oral interview. The interview was conducted in the presence of Trooper Coit’s union and legal representatives at the Law Offices of Rome McGuigan P.C. at 1 State Street, Hartford, Connecticut. The following is a synopsis of what Trooper Coit reported in the interview:

On June 18, 2013, Trooper Coit was working her regularly assigned position as an evening shift (2:30 p.m. - 12:00 a.m.) trooper at Troop K (Colchester). She was assigned “South Patrol” which is primarily responsible for the towns of Salem, Colchester and East Haddam.  At the time of the reported fire at 28 Witter Road, Trooper Coit was at the East Haddam Resident State Trooper’s office with Resident Trooper Patrick Hawes. Troop K dispatched Trooper Coit to the fire and she asked Trooper Hawes if he would go with her, because there is a long history of violence at that house. Dispatch also advised that the Fire Department reported the driveway was blocked and the fire looked to have been intentionally set. Once at the scene of the fire, Trooper Coit stated that the firefighters asked the Troopers to check the woods behind the house for the homeowner. The firefighters were familiar with him, thought he was “crazy” and knew that he had threatened to burn the house down.

Trooper Coit first learned of the man in the field from a Fire Department woman who was on scene doing traffic control near the end of Witter Road. The woman came toward them yelling “Cops, cops, cops.” Trooper Hawes and Coit ran toward the woman and when they arrived the woman and a paramedic told them that, “There is a guy out in the field, he’s screaming obscenities and we don’t know what the problem is.” Trooper Coit stated they could see the man in the field from where they were now standing in the road. She said that the man was in the field with a Golden Retriever dog . The man was pacing and acting irate and out of control and screaming. Based on the man’s build and dog, Trooper Coit thought she recognized him from prior dealings as the homeowner from 28 Witter Road.

Trooper Coit stated that she and Trooper Hawes immediately entered into the open field. Once in the field, she said both Troopers drew their guns and began to approach the man. As they approached, the man noticed them and then began yelling “Fuck you, Fuck you I’m not going back to jail.” Trooper Hawes then began to give the man verbal commands to get down on the ground, however he ignored the commands and continued to reply “Fuck You” each time Trooper Hawes spoke. Trooper Coit stated she never gave any commands because she didn’t want to confuse the man. The man then picked up a piece of stick or club or piece of wood from the ground and raised it above his head. The man looked toward Trooper Coit and said something to the effect of “Fuck you, stay there bitch” then turned and faced Trooper Hawes. At this time Trooper Coit estimated the man was about twenty feet away from Trooper Hawes. Trooper Coit said the man then charged at Trooper Hawes. Trooper Hawes shot at the man, but she didn’t think he fell down to the ground until after the last shot. After he fell to the ground Trooper Hawes immediately handcuffed the man and rolled him onto his side in a first aid recovery position. Trooper Coit then yelled for the paramedics to come over as they were on the other side of the field. While waiting for the medics, the man said “Help me” and Trooper Coit told him to keep calm because medics were on the way and then didn’t say much else.

A written statement was obtained from Cheryl Philopena at approximately 1:30 a.m. on June 19, 2013. Philopena was an EMT with the Gardner Lake Volunteer Fire Company with thirty eight years of experience. She indicated that she grew up with Robert Bergeson and met his ex-wife Gale Bergeson when they first began dating over thirty years ago. Philopena described her relationship with the Bergesons as being “friends, but were not in the same social circles.” On June 18, Philopena responded with an ambulance and knew that the house belonged to the Bergesons. She stated that she had responded to the Bergeson house previously as an EMT. One incident was in April 2012 when Robert had assaulted Gale and she required ambulance transport. While on the scene of the fire at Witter Road, in the area of Old Colchester Road, she saw movement in the field behind 10 Witter Road. She realized that it was Bob Bergeson.  “I could hear him speaking in a normal voice, though not understandable, until he screamed “Motherfuckers,” which he would scream, and then mutter unintelligibly, then he would scream “You motherfuckers.” While he was doing this he had his right hand in the air moving it back and forth, moving it over his head, back and forth. He had something in his hand, his fist was clenched. I couldn’t tell what was in his hand, but my gut instinct thought, what if it’s a gun? I have not felt fear like that in anything I’ve ever done.” Philopena began to run down the road toward the Troopers and was yelling “Cops, cops, cops” and was motioning to get their attention. She said that the two Troopers saw her and ran to meet her. She was having difficulty breathing due to asthma but managed to tell the Troopers, “Its him, in the field, gun.” The Troopers then ran into the field and Philopena remained by a fire truck closer to 28 Witter Road. She remembered hearing three or four gunshots, but didn’t see the incident.

A written statement was obtained from Sean Shoemaker by Detective Vincent Gogluicci at approximately 1:00 a.m. on June 19, 2013. Sean Shoemaker is a former Captain with the West Hartford Fire Department and currently Deputy Fire Marshal for the town of Colchester and employed by JP McGuire Associates, a reconstruction company that provides services to homeowners for fire damage. On June 18, 2013, at approximately 6:30 p.m., he was notified of the fire on Witter Road. Shoemaker responded to Witter Road, arriving at approximately 7:00 p.m. and as representative of JP McGuire, attempted to seek out the homeowner to offer reconstruction services. He stated that two State Troopers were not allowing anyone too close to the fire, so he went to a garage and field area near the structure fire. While there, he saw what he described as a “large individual wearing dark clothing” with a dog in the field. The man was the only one in the middle of the field and he appeared to be watching the fire and was yelling something to the effect of “Burn motherfucker burn.” The two State Troopers, one male and one female both in uniform, entered the field from the wood line along Witter Road.  Both Troopers had their guns drawn and approached the man in the field. The Troopers were a few hundred feet away from him. Shoemaker ducked behind a van for safety, partially obstructing his view. The two Troopers crossed the field toward the man and he heard the male Trooper yelling commands to the man, something to the effect of “drop it or get down” repeatedly. Shoemaker estimated that the Trooper’s attempts went on for about fifteen seconds, possibly longer. As the Trooper was yelling commands, he saw a man emerge from behind a tree and take a few quick steps toward the Troopers. He saw that the man had an unknown object in his right hand which was raised above his head as he continued to step towards the Troopers. The man appeared to get within approximately twenty feet of the Troopers when he heard four or five gunshots and saw the man fall. Immediately after the gunshots he heard one of the Troopers yell for a medic. 

A written statement was obtained from Jason Schall by Detective John McDonald at approximately 1:30 a.m. on June 19, 2013. Jason Schall was employed by Kapura General Contractors, a reconstruction company that provides services to homeowners for fire damages. On June 18, 2013, at approximately 6:49 p.m., he was notified of the fire on Witter Road. Schall responded to Witter Road, arriving approximately thirty minutes later and attempted to seek out the homeowner to offer reconstruction services. He stated that a male State Trooper wouldn’t allow him near the fire, so he went to a garage and field area near the structure fire to wait. He waited with another friend, Matthew Lounsbury, who also provided fire reconstruction services, but for a different company. While there, Schall saw a man in the field with a dog. The man was yelling but he couldn’t understand what the man was saying, but thought he heard “Cocksucker.” Jason then saw the two State Troopers enter the field with their guns drawn and approach the man. At this time he took out his personal cell phone and began to videotape the events. As the two Troopers walked towards the man, he heard a Trooper yelling commands to the man, telling him to drop something. Schall saw the man emerge from behind a tree, with an unknown dark object in his hand and move toward the Troopers. The Trooper was still yelling commands at the man when he saw the man raise an object in his hand towards the Trooper. Schall then heard gunshots and saw the man fall. The cell phone images were voluntarily provided to investigators by Schall.

A written statement was obtained from Matthew Lounsbury by Detective Steve Soares at approximately 3:50 a.m. on June 19, 2013. Matthew Lounsbury was employed by Green Construction and Restoration, a company that provides services to homeowners in dealing with insurance companies for fire damages. On June 18, 2013, at approximately 6:49 p.m., Lounsbury was notified of the fire on Witter Road. He responded to Witter Road, arriving at approximately 7:30 p.m., and attempted to seek out the homeowner. Lounsbury stated that State Troopers wouldn’t allow him near the fire, so he went to a garage and field area near the structure fire to wait. While there, Lounsbury saw a man in the field behind the building. The man was yelling “Motherfucker” several times and was swinging an object. Lounsbury couldn’t see what the man was swinging, but it could have been a gun, a stick or a machete. He saw the two uniformed State Troopers enter the field with their guns drawn and approach the man. At this time Lounsbury took out his personal cell phone and began to videotape the events. Matthew heard a male Trooper yelling commands to the man, something to the effect of “put it down.” When the Troopers were about fifteen yards from the man, he made a sudden movement with the object toward them. He then heard four gunshots and saw the man fall. The cell phone images were voluntarily provided to investigators by Lounsbury.

Trooper Hawes’ duty weapon (Sig Saur .45 caliber, serial #37A035941), and his duty belt with attached equipment were seized. The equipment was inventoried and the three ammunition magazines on his belt were filled to capacity with eight Federal brand .45 caliber rounds. Trooper Hawes’ duty weapon was found to have one Federal brand .45 caliber round chambered and four additional rounds in the eight capacity magazine.

Investigators located and seized physical evidence in the area of the field behind 10 Witter Road, where Robert Bergeson was shot. Located in the field beside a tree  were areas of red blood like staining on the grass along with clothing and personal items belonging to Robert Bergeson. Located next to the clothing items was a piece of wood, measuring approximately two inches wide by twenty three inches long. In the area immediately east, approximately thirty seven feet from Robert Bergeson’s clothing items, investigators located three expended Federal brand .45 caliber shell casings. Investigators had determined that Trooper Hawes had fired four times, but investigators could only locate three expended shell casings at this time. The scene remained secured and the area was searched again on June 20, 2013, with the assistance of Troopers Arthur Derderian and Mark Lamberty and their assigned evidence recovery K-9’s. Investigators located the fourth expended shell casing in same vicinity as the other three.  Investigators were unable to locate any of the four projectiles at the scene.

The video captured on Jason Schall’s phone from his position behind the building at 10 Witter Road shows Robert Bergeson in the field wearing dark clothing. The two uniformed Troopers can be seen approaching Bergeson with their arms held straight out in front of them. Loud voices can be heard from the field, but are difficult to understand. Bergeson can be seen beginning to advance toward the Troopers with his arms raised with what appears to be a long object and then four gunshots can be heard in succession. After the first gunshot, Schall moved the phone and the scene is no longer visible. After the shooting stopped Schall had the Troopers back in view and they can be seen approaching to give medical aid.

There are two videos captured on Matthew Lounsbury’s phone from his position behind the building at 10 Witter Road. On the first video Robert Bergeson can be seen in the field wearing dark clothing. The two uniformed Troopers can be seen standing near Bergeson with their arms held straight out in front of them. Loud voices can be heard from the field, but are difficult to understand. Bergeson can be seen beginning to advance towards the Troopers with his arms raised with what appears to be a long object and then four gunshots can be heard in succession. After the shooting stopped Lounsbury had the Troopers back in view and they can be seen approaching to give medical aid. The second video is after the incident shows the phone pointing downward to the grass as Lounsbury speaks to someone at the scene and makes a phone call on another phone. There are no visual images of value, but someone can be heard yelling for medics to assist.

The police involved history for Robert Bergeson indicates four documented arrests from September 22, 2012, through October 14, 2014, for charges including Harassment, Disorderly Conduct, Assault, Threatening, Strangulation and Violation of Protective Order. Following his conviction for Harassment in the Second Degree on June 6, 2013, Bergeson was assigned to Adult Probation. Probation Officer Bethany Stone spoke to him on June 13, and scheduled an intake interview for June 20, 2013. One of the aspects of this interview was to assess him and his mental state due to his mandatory counseling assigned as a condition of his probation. This incident occurred prior to his first scheduled appointment. In addition, there were two documented reports to Troop K, from October 1, 2012, and November 30, 2012, regarding concerns from family members that Robert Bergeson was possibly suicidal.

James B. Savalle provided a written statement at approximately 2:00 a.m. on June 19, 2014. He stated that he was the Fire Chief of the Gardner Lake Fire Department. Chief Savalle said “the last time that I saw Bob was at a psych call when I was there with Trooper Coit and we had to walk him out of the backyard to the ambulance. It was that day that he made the comment that he would be hanging in the garage and the place would be burning.”

Robert Bergeson’s ex-wife Gale, who recently divorced him after twenty seven years of marriage provided insight into what she believed was his mental status at the time of his death. She provided a written statement on June 18, 2013. She stated that Robert had been verbally and physically abusive for most of their relationship, which was unknown to anyone else because she had never reported any of the abuse out of fear that he would kill her if she did. Gale stated that after his arrest in September 2012, she decided to divorce Bergeson. She described him as being very insecure, mentally unstable and having anger management issues. Gale felt Robert was even more distraught and probably wanted to die. After his arrest people now knew that they had been having marriage problems for years and that he had gone from being a former police constable and “well-known Salem resident” with a “six figure” salary, a nice house and a wife to being a “convicted felon” who was close to losing everything, including the only woman he loved. She added that Bergeson had said that he would never allow her to get the house and felt that he burned the house down so that she would not get it in the final divorce settlement.

APPLICABLE LAW

Section 53a-22 (c) of the General Statutes permits a police officer to use deadly physical force upon another person 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.  The test to determine reasonableness 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, the belief must be objectively reasonable. See State v. Smith, 73 Conn. App. 173, cert. denied, 262 Conn. 923 (2002).  The burden is on the state to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt the elements of self-defense as set forth in §53a-22. State v. Smith, supra, 73 Conn. App. at 185-86.

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 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 appropriate inquiry is whether the officers acted reasonably, not whether they had less intrusive alternatives available to them.” Scott v. Henrich, 39 F.3d. 912, 915 (9th Cir. 1992).

CONCLUSION

Based upon the preceding facts and circumstance and the applicable law found in Connecticut General Statutes §53a-22 the undersigned finds that Trooper Patrick Hawes reasonably believed that the use of deadly physical force was necessary to defend himself and others from the use of deadly physical force. Robert Bergeson failed to comply with Trooper Hawes’ lawful commands and advanced in an aggressive and threatening manner towards the Troopers while armed with a piece of wood. As Bergeson closed the distance between himself and the Troopers, Trooper Hawes, in that split second, reasonably believed he had no other alternative but to use deadly force. The use of deadly physical force was, therefore, appropriate.

I would like to thank the Connecticut State Police Central District Major Crime Squad, the Connecticut State Police Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit, the Connecticut State Police Eastern District Major Crime Squad, the Gardner Lake Fire Company and the State Police Forensic Science Laboratory for their roles in this investigation. 

No further action is to be taken by the Division of Criminal Justice as a result of this incident.

Dated at New London, Connecticut this 8th day of July, 2014.

MICHAEL L. REGAN
STATE’S ATTORNEY
JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF NEW LONDON



Content Last Modified on 7/15/2014 2:57:49 PM