Unarmed man shot at by East Haven police on I-95 claims foot broken during arrest

NEW HAVEN — An unarmed man who East Haven police shot at while trying to take him into custody last week on Interstate 95 for failing to show up for court appearances claims his foot was broken during the arrest.

Nicholas Gambardella, 27, appeared Wednesday in state Superior Court in New Haven as he stood on crutches with his right leg in a cast and a bandaged hand.

However, he will have to return to court Thursday after his lawyer failed to show up.

Superior Court Judge Eugene Calistro Jr. said the clerk's office received an email from the Law Office of Jason C. Goddard, which is listed as Gambardella's lawyer on his pending cases, saying they could not have an attorney present Wednesday. 

The law office declined to comment when reached after the hearing on Wednesday.

Gambardella claimed that despite multiple calls to his attorney, the law firm would not pick up or return his calls. Calistro continued the case to Thursday morning and ordered someone from the law firm to be present. 

"They should've been here today," Calistro said. "We'll pick up where we left off tomorrow." 

Outside the Elm Street courthouse, Gambardella expressed frustration with his lawyer as well as the police.

On Jan. 5, East Haven Police Lt. Joseph Finoia fired three shots at Gambardella and missed after he led authorities on a pursuit on I-95 from Branford to Milford, according to the state Office of the Inspector General. The inspector general is investigating Finoia's use of force during the encounter. 

The inspector general said police believed Gambardella was armed with a gun. However, no weapon was found on or near him when he was arrested, the inspector general said.

Gambardella, accompanied by friends and family, maintained his innocence Wednesday. 

After the Jan. 5 police shooting, Gambardella was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries he sustained in a motor vehicle crash "while trying to elude the police," East Haven Police Capt. Joseph Murgo said in a news release. 

Gambardella said Wednesday his foot was broken while he was being arrested, adding that he would need surgery. With a visible bandage on his hand, Gambardella said he was injured from handcuffs and also hurt his pelvis during the incident. 

The inspector general did not immediately respond Wednesday about Gambardella's claims of being hurt during the arrest.

Gambardella was released from the hospital on Jan. 7 and charged with three counts of first-degree failure to appear and one count of second-degree failure to appear. He was released from custody on bonds totaling $151,500.

He's also expected to face charges related to the Jan. 5 encounter with police, though court records do not show any charges stemming from that incident.

The Inspector General's Office said the events leading up to the police shooting began just before 9 a.m. Jan. 5 when East Haven police and members of an FBI task force tried to arrest Gambardella on outstanding warrants. 

Police boxed in Gambardella's car, a white Honda sedan, at a Burger King in Branford, but he sped away, hitting two police cars in the process, according to the Office of the Inspector General.

The car then fled onto the southbound side of I-95 with police in pursuit.

The Honda got off the highway at Exit 36 in Milford, where it slammed into the steel barricade at the end of the highway exit ramp. Police said Gambardella then ran across both sides of I-95 to a grassy area near the northbound ramp.

Finoia and East Haven Police Lt. Kevin Klarman pursued Gambardella on foot across the highway.

When the three reached the grassy area on the eastern side of the highway, "Gambardella appeared to reach and turn toward the officers," the inspector general said.

Finoia fired three shots from his handgun, according to the inspector general and footage from police body camera video.

Gambardella appears to fall backward as the shots ring out in the video, as Klarman runs forward to pin Gambardella to the ground. The Inspector General's Office said none of the shots struck Gambardella.

The four pending charges of failure to appear in court against Gambardella stem from separate cases dating back to 2016, court records show. 

On Oct. 14, 2016, Gambardella was arrested by East Haven police and charged with a felony possession with intent to sell, the records show. He later pleaded guilty to the drug charge and received a suspended two-year jail sentence and two years of probation. In 2018, he pleaded guilty to two probation violations, receiving a two-year jail sentence that was suspended after 60 days and two years of probation. 

He pleaded not guilty to a third count of probation violation. He was charged with first-degree failure to appear in the case on Dec. 12, 2022, and has not yet entered a plea to the charge. 

Gambardella was charged with first-degree threatening in February 2017. After pleading guilty in May 2017, he was sentenced to a two-year suspended jail sentence and two years of probation. 

In 2017, he also pleaded guilty to to second-degree breach of peace and reckless driving and first-degree reckless endangerment in 2018. He was unconditionally discharged in all three charges, court records show. 

In November 2018, he was also charged with first-degree reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to suspended one-year jail term after 18 months of conditional discharge, according to court records. 

In April 2020, Gambardella was charged with attempted third-degree robbery, attempted first-degree larceny, third-degree assault, first-degree reckless endangerment and third-degree criminal mischief. The next month, he was arrested again by the East Haven Police Department on a third-degree criminal mischief charge. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and the cases are ongoing, according to court records.