East Haven police lieutenant fired shots and missed unarmed suspect on I-95 in Milford, report shows

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MILFORD — An East Haven police lieutenant fired three shots and missed an unarmed suspect during a foot chase across Interstate 95 on Thursday, the state Office of the Inspector General said.

Police had information that the man, 27-year-old Nicholas Gambardella, was in possession of a gun, the inspector general said in a preliminary report released Friday.

But police "did not find a weapon on or near Gambardella," after he was apprehended, the report noted.

The report identified the officer who fired his gun as East Haven Police Lt. Joseph Finoia.

Warning: The videos below contain language that may be offensive to some viewers.

East Haven police and members of an FBI task force tried to arrest Gambardella on warrants charging him with several felonies around 9 a.m. Thursday, the report said. However, the report did not specify the charges.

According to judicial records, a re-arrest order had been issued for Gambardella, who has pending charges of third-degree attempted robbery, third-degree assault, first-degree attempted larceny, first-degree reckless endangerment and third-degree criminal mischief stemming from a 2020 incident. Gambardella had pleaded not guilty to the charges, which related to the the attempted theft of a truck at an East Haven gas station

Gambardella had been released on $50,000 bond for those charges. Gambardella has at least six convictions since 2017 on charges that include drug possession with intent to distribute, threatening and reckless endangerment, according to judicial records.

On Thursday, authorities tried to apprehend Gambardella in the parking lot of a Burger King in Branford, the inspector general's report said. Police boxed-in Gambardella’s car, a white Honda sedan, but he struck two police cruisers and fled onto I-95 south, the report stated.

Police pursued him to Exit 36 in Milford, where the car got off the highway and crashed into a metal guardrail at the end of the exit ramp, the report stated. He then got out of the car and ran across the highway through southbound and northbound traffic to a grassy area, the report stated.

Finoia and East Haven Police Lt. Kevin Klarman followed him on foot across the highway and onto the grass, the report stated.

As they reach the grassy area, Klarman can be heard saying, "Get on the ground or I'll (expletive) kill you," according to audio from his body camera footage released Friday.

"Get on the ground now, I'll [expletive] shoot you, I'll [expletive] shoot you," Finoia said, according to his body camera footage, before three shots can be heard.

"In the grass area on the east side of I-95, Gambardella appeared to reach and turn toward the officers," the report stated. "Lieutenant Finoia fired his weapon three times. None of the shots struck Gambardella."

Three red flags marking evidence could be seen Thursday afternoon in the area near where the footage shows Finoia firing the shots.

A clip of the video captured by Klarman body camera shows Gambardella fall backward as the shots are fired. 

"Shots fired," Klarman says, then orders Gambardella to put his hands up before he lunges at the suspect, the video shows. Finoia's body cam shows Klarman holding Gambardella down while Finoia appears to begin cuffing him. 

The inspector general's office said the investigation remains ongoing.