CSAO: Report on the Death of Val Thomas

Report of the State's Attorney for the Judicial District of Windham Concerning the Death of Val Thomas in Montville on January 29, 2017

Introduction | Summary of Facts/Evidence | Additional Circumstances and Evidence | Video Review | Legal Authority | State's Attorney's Review and Conclusion

INTRODUCTION

On January 29, 2017, two uniformed Montville constables responded to a call for assistance at the Chesterfield Lodge in Chesterfield section of Montville, Connecticut. In the course of that response, Mr. Val Thomas stole an officer’s "Conducted Electronic Weapon", commonly known as a Taser; fired the Taser at the officers; and beat an officer in the head with the Taser before being shot and killed. The State’s Attorney for the Windham Judicial District was designated to conduct an investigation into the shooting to determine whether the use of deadly physical force by the officer was appropriate under Connecticut General Statues § 51-277a.

SUMMARY OF FACTS/EVIDENCE

On January 29, 2017, at approximately 2:22 p.m., the owner of Chesterfield Lodge contacted the police asking them to send someone. He said he had a customer who did not want to pay and did not want to leave the room. When asked, he identified it as Room 2. The Chesterfield Lodge is located at 1596 Route 85 in the Chesterfield section of Montville. Connecticut State Police Troop E dispatched two uniformed Montville constables to the lodge: Officer Gregg Jacobson and Officer Robin Salvatore.

Officer Jacobson arrived first and located the caller in the package store adjacent to the lodge. The caller owns both the package store and the lodge and the two buildings are attached. The owner told Officer Jacobson that tenant in Room 2 was supposed to have obtained money to pay the owner the rent due on January 27th, but failed to do so. The owner told Officer Jacobson he had given the guest until Sunday to pay and on Sunday the guest neither had the money nor would leave when asked to do so by the owner. The owner gave Officer Jacobson a guest registration card for the customer, who was identified as a Mr. Val Thomas. Officer Jacobson used the card to run a background check on Mr. Thomas. He did so at his cruiser using the Mobile Data Terminal. He learned Mr. Thomas was not wanted by any law enforcement agencies nor had a valid Connecticut driver’s license but did have a Connecticut ID card. Officer Jacobson explained the situation to Officer Salvatore who arrived shortly after he did. Officer Salvatore asked Officer Jacobson if the customer owned a vehicle. Since Officer Jacobson did not know, Officer Salvatore ran the motor vehicle registration plates of the vehicles parked near the room. The search revealed the vehicles were owned by the caller, the lodge owner. The officers proceeded to Room #2 located on the ground level and knocked on the door.

Officer Jacobson stood to the right of the door and Officer Salvatore to the left, closer to Room 1. Jacobson heard a male voice ask who was there. Officer Jacobson identified himself as "Montville Police". The male voice indicated he needed to get dressed and asked for a minute to do so. Then the male, later identified as Mr. Val Thomas, opened the door. Officer Jacobson asked the male for identification and was provided a Connecticut photo ID card of Mr. Thomas. Officer Jacobson told Mr. Thomas of the owner’s complaint. Mr. Thomas responded that he was living there and had spoken with Legal Aid and the Montville resident trooper about the situation on January 28, 2017. Officer Jacobson told Mr. Thomas that the resident trooper had not worked on Saturday the 28th. In response, Mr. Thomas stated he spoken with both (Legal Aid and resident trooper) on Friday the 27th. Officer Salvatore walked away and called the resident trooper, State Police Sergeant Mark Juhola, to verify Mr. Thomas’ account. Officer Jacobson asked Mr. Thomas to stay where he was.

According to Officer Salvatore, the Resident Trooper, Sergeant Juhola, denied having spoken to Mr. Thomas. Officer Salvatore told Officer Jacobson that Sergeant Juhola never spoke with Mr. Thomas. She concluded Mr. Thomas was lying. She asked Officer Jacobson if he had any other information showing Mr. Thomas had established residency and received no other information. Mr. Thomas remained in the doorway during this time.

The officers returned to the doorway, this time Officer Salvatore going to the right and Officer Jacobson now at the left side facing into the room. Officer Salvatore told Mr. Thomas that she spoke with the resident trooper and the resident trooper told her he never spoke with Mr. Thomas. She then told Mr. Thomas he should consider going to a homeless shelter, that the owner did not want him in the room due to nonpayment of rent. Officer Salvatore told Mr. Thomas to pay for his room or pack his belongings or he would be subject to arrest for theft of services.

According to Officer Jacobson, Mr. Thomas turned to go back into the room, but then turned towards Officer Salvatore and lunged at her, grabbing her Taser from her duty belt. Both officers then attempted to get out of range of the Taser. Mr. Thomas turned towards Officer Jacobson who backed up. Mr. Thomas began firing the Taser towards a retreating Officer Jacobson. As he moved in the direction of the cruisers, Officer Jacobson tried to call Troop E Barracks for backup on his portable radio.

After firing the Taser towards Officer Jacobson, Mr. Thomas returned towards his room and then turned to his left and chased after Officer Salvatore. When Mr. Thomas initially stole her Taser, Officer Salvatore had retreated to her right down the sidewalk along the building, and then she turned her back to the building and ran into the parking lot. Officer Salvatore could not determine if Mr. Thomas reloaded her Taser. She turned her back towards the building while pulling her weapon only to find Mr. Thomas quickly closed the gap between them in the parking lot. Officer Salvatore turned facing him and was backing up. According to Officer Salvatore, she told him to put the Taser down, but Mr. Thomas responded coming at her saying, "I’m going to kill you, you fucking cop." Mr. Thomas swung at her with the Taser striking her on the head several times, changing hands as he did so. At some point Officer Salvatore saw Mr. Thomas point the Taser at her with the electrical charge activated. Officer Salvatore believed Mr. Thomas was trying to "Drive Stun" her with the Taser which could have left her incapacitated and defenseless. Mr. Thomas again struck Officer Salvatore in the head with such force that blood ran down her face into her eye. Believing Mr. Thomas was trying to kill her, as he had threatened, Officer Salvatore then fired one round from her service weapon, striking Mr. Thomas in the abdomen. He then fell to the ground.

Officer Salvatore backed up. Officer Jacobson came over to where Mr. Thomas was on the ground. Officer Salvatore instructed Officer Jacobson to handcuff Mr. Thomas. Officer Jacobson kicked away the Taser. He then proceeded to handcuff Mr. Thomas’ hands behind Thomas’ back. According to Officer Jacobson, Mr. Thomas made derogatory remarks about the police while on the ground. Officer Jacobson turned to Officer Salvatore and had her sit down. She returned her weapon to its holster and was bleeding from her head. Both then called Troop E Barracks for help. Additional officers arrived on the scene. Connecticut State Police Trooper Timothy Bentley, who was off-duty and responded, checked on Officer Salvatore, then turned his attention to Mr. Thomas. He asked Mr. Thomas’ name and Mr. Thomas made a derogatory reply. Trooper Bentley lifted Mr. Thomas’ shirt to locate his wound. He could not locate an exit wound. He did locate the entrance wound and applied gauze over the wound. Although he tried to have Mr. Thomas stay in a position with his knees bent to relieve pressure to the abdomen wound, Mr. Thomas kept rolling from side to side.

Police had requested medical help at approximately 2:55 p.m. Ambulances arrived at approximately 3:08 p.m. (Oakdale Fire Company) and 3:11 p.m. (Chesterfield Fire Department). An Oakdale Fire Department Emergency Medical Technician Dave Swinburne assisted Trooper Bentley in applying pressure to Mr. Thomas’ abdomen wound. Michael Butterworth, an Oakdale Fire Department volunteer, came to the scene and proceeded to Mr. Thomas, who at that point was rolling on the ground. Mr. Butterworth noted Mr. Thomas was moaning. He asked for the handcuffs to be removed from Mr. Thomas. Once the handcuffs were removed, Mr. Thomas was then placed on a stretcher in the Chesterfield ambulance. At approximately 3:16 p.m. the ambulance transporting Mr. Thomas was driven to Backus Hospital in Norwich, Connecticut. The choice of hospital was determined by the patient’s medical needs.

Once inside the ambulance Mr. Thomas began moving about and handcuffs were restored with his hands in front. Once he calmed down, the handcuffs were removed again. While enroute to the Backus Hospital, a Mohegan Tribal paramedic met and came on board the ambulance. Efforts were made to treat Mr. Thomas’ injuries along the ride. His blood pressure dropped and his respiratory rate slowed. A bag valve mask resuscitator was employed. Once his pulse could not be detected, the LUCAS machine was used to conduct cardio pulmonary resuscitation. The ambulance notified Backus hospital that Mr. Thomas was in cardiac arrest.

At Backus Hospital, Mr. Thomas was admitted at 3:30 p.m.. Efforts to revive Mr. Thomas continued in the emergency room where his death was pronounced at 3:39 p.m. by Dr. Thomas Ceddia.

On January 30, 2017, Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Susan Williams performed an autopsy on Mr. Thomas. On March 8, 2017, the medical examiner’s office issued her report indicating the cause of Mr. Thomas’ death to be a gunshot wound of his abdomen/pelvis and the manner of his death to be a homicide. According to the toxicology report, no alcohol or drugs were detected in Mr. Thomas’ system.

Officer Salvatore was taken by ambulance to Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London, Connecticut, where she was treated for the injuries she sustained from Mr. Thomas’ assault of her.

ADDITIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES AND EVIDENCE

Mr. Thomas appears to have had contacts and dealings with various law enforcement starting in 1984. He had prior convictions for crimes in New York State. Among his prior crimes are assaults and incidents of him becoming physically violent.

A few weeks before his death, Mr. Thomas was arrested on January 9, 2017, by the Mohegan Tribal police for Breach of Peace in the Second Degree and Threatening in the Second Degree and was released. The alleged incident leading to his arrest involved repeated threatening phone calls to Citizens Bank. According to the arresting officers, Mr. Thomas admitted making the phone calls and yelling and swearing, but denied threatening to shoot the place up. When being arrested in the poker room, Mr. Thomas muttered some comments cursing the arresting officer. Copies of several of the phone calls (approximately 18 were made in about a half hour) were turned over to the police as part of their investigation. He was arraigned on January 19, 2017. The court appointed a public defender for him and he had a return court date of February 22, 2017. It is unclear whether he actually spoke with a public defender.

Ms. Kathleen Doherty-Peck of the Town of Montville Department of Social Services spoke with Mr. Thomas on Friday January 28, 2017. According to her, she had worked with him in the past. She informed police that Mr. Thomas told her that he had spoken with Legal Aid and the police about him having run out of money and that his landlord could not throw him out. She described him as upset about information he learned from Legal Aid about the possibility that his landlord would lock him out, but she noted he was quiet and polite.

Other individuals, who had in the past had interactions with Mr. Thomas, gave statements to the police. There were histories of pleasant past interactions that eventually gave way to difficulties and disagreements and ended with breaking off all ties with Mr. Thomas.

Located in the room after Mr. Thomas’ death were writings appearing to belong to him noting what appear to have been delusions as to his identity and fate, most notably that he was God and that he was surrounded by government agents intent on murdering him. A social media account with a photograph of him also contained a similar account of a claim to be a deity.

The autopsy recorded Mr. Thomas’ length as approximately 72 inches and his weight at approximately 185 lbs. In the January 9, 2017 uniform arrest report he is listed as 6’1" and 180 lbs. His Department of Motor Vehicles id card has him as 6’1". Officer Salvatore is 5’4" tall and 193 lbs.

VIDEO REVIEW

Several videos from various points of view captured aspects of the interactions between the police officers and Mr. Thomas. There were two videos provided by the Chesterfield Lodge itself. Their video view shows the exterior north parking lot of the lodge between 2:35:01 p.m. and 3:40 p.m. There were also cruiser videos showing aspects of events of the incident as well.

According to the various clocks on each of the videos, the officers initially engaged Mr. Thomas starting at 2:45 p.m. and the fatal shot takes place at 2:52 p.m. From the beginning of Mr. Thomas stealing Officer Salvatore’s Taser to his being shot takes a total of 25 seconds. From the first time Mr. Thomas strikes Officer Salvatore with her Taser to when she discharges her duty issued weapon is less than 10 seconds.

LEGAL AUTHORITY

The purpose of this report is to determine if the use of deadly physical force by the police officer involved was appropriate under our law, specifically Connecticut General Statutes Section 53a-22.

Connecticut General Statutes Section 51-277a reads as follows:

(a) Whenever a peace officer, in the performance of such officer’s duties, uses 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 the use of physical force by the peace officer was appropriate under section 53a-22. The division shall request the appropriate law enforcement agency to provide such assistance as is necessary to determine the circumstances of the incident.

(b) In causing such an investigation to be made, the Chief State’s Attorney shall, (1) as provided in section 51-281, designate a prosecutorial official from a judicial district other than the judicial district in which the incident occurred to conduct the investigation, or (2) as provided in subsection (a) of section 51-285, appoint a special assistant state’s atorney r special deputy assistant state’s attorney to conduct the investigation. The Chief State’s Attorney shall, upon the request of such prosecutorial official or special prosecutor, appoint a special inspector or special inspectors to assist in such investigation.

(c) Upon the conclusion of the investigation of the incident, the division shall file a report with the Chief State’s Attorney which shall contain the following: (1) The circumstances of the incident, (2) a determination of whether the use of physical force by the peace officer was appropriate under section 53a-22, and (3) any future action to be taken by the Division of Criminal Justice as a result of the incident. The Chief State’s Attorney shall provide a copy of the report to the chief executive officer of the municipality in which the incident occurred and to the Commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection or the chief of police of such municipality, as the case may be.

Pursuant to Division of Criminal Justice policy and the above cited statute, on January 29, 2017, Chief State’s Attorney Kevin T. Kane referred this matter to the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Windham for an investigation and the issuance of a report regarding the death of Mr. Val Thomas. The Connecticut State Police Eastern District Major Crime Squad (EDMC) conducted and assisted in the investigation. Further details of the incident as related in this report are compiled from investigative reports by the EDMC squad including sworn statements provided by the officers at the scene and other witnesses to the incident witnesses to the incident and individuals familiar with Mr. Thomas as well as his family members.

Connecticut General Statutes Section 53a-22(c) provides:

"A Peace Officer. . . is justified in using deadly physical force upon another person for the purposes specified in Subsection (b) of this section only when he reasonably believes such to be necessary to: (1) Defend himself 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 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 has given warning of his intent to use deadly physical force."

Connecticut General Statutes Section 53a-22(b) provides:

"Except as provided by subsection (a) of this Section, a Peace Officer. . . is justified in using physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he reasonable believes such to be necessary to: (1) Effect an arrest or prevent the escape from custody of a person whom he reasonably believes to have committed an offense, unless he knows that the arrest or custody is unauthorized; or (2) Defend himself or a third person from the use or imminent use of physical force while attempting to effect an arrest or while preventing or attempting to prevent an escape."

Consequently, pursuant to CGS 53a-22(c)(1), a police officer may use deadly force when she reasonably believes the use of such force is necessary to defend herself or another from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force. Second, that belief must be objectively reasonable. See State v. Prioleau, 235 Conn. 273 (1995).

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 such to be the case, and whether such belief was objectively reasonable, based on the facts and circumstances known to the 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).

STATE’S ATTORNEY’S REVIEW AND CONCLUSION

The State’s Attorney finds that based on the facts in this case, Montville Constable Robin Salvatore was justified under Connecticut General Statutes Section 53a-22(c) in using deadly physical force upon another person, namely Mr. Val Thomas. Since Mr. Thomas repeatedly struck her in the head with a blunt object that could have caused death or serious physical injury and stated that he intended to kill her, Officer Salvatore was justified in the use of deadly physical force.

The State’s Attorney determines that the use of deadly physical force was appropriate under Connecticut General Statutes Section 51-277(a). No further action will be taken by the Division of Criminal Justice as a result of this incident.

The State’s Attorney thanks the responding officers for their professionalism. The State’s Attorney thanks the Connecticut State Police Eastern Major District Crime Squad for their thorough investigation. The State’s Attorney would also like to thank the Supervisory Police Inspector of New London State’s Attorney’s Office for his cooperation with the Windham State’s Attorney. The State’s Attorney thanks the members of New York law enforcement who promptly responded to request for information.

The death of Mr. Val Thomas was a tragedy. The State’s Attorney extends her condolences to his family.

/s/

Anne F. Mahoney
State’s Attorney
Windham Judicial District



Content Last Modified on 3/19/2018 11:55:35 AM