State trooper cleared of wrong-doing in shooting death at Milford gas station in October
A state’s attorney has ruled that a state trooper acted appropriately when he shot and killed a Milford man at the Patriot Fuels gas station Oct. 23.
“Based upon the preceding facts and circumstances and the applicable law found in Connecticut General Statutes §53a-22(c) State’s Attorney Lawlor finds that the use of deadly force by Trooper First Class James Scott while confronting Matthew Lofaro during the attempted robbery of the Patriot Fuels Gas Station in the early morning of Wednesday, October 23, 2013, was appropriate under Section 53a-22 of the General Statutes,” the report concludes.
Following is most of the text of Lawlor’s report.
The Connecticut State Police Eastern District Major Crime Squad, acting at the request of the Office of the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Ansonia-Milford investigated the police involved fatal shooting of Matthew Lofaro which took place in the Town of Milford on October 23, 2013.
Connecticut General Statutes §51-277a(a) requires the State's Attorney to conduct an investigation, utilizing appropriate law enforcement agencies, whenever a peace officer, in the performance of his duties, uses deadly physical force upon another person and such person dies as a result. Section 51-277a(c) of the General Statutes requires the State's Attorney to determine, upon completion of the investigation, the circumstances of the incident and whether deadly force was appropriate under Section 53a-22 of the General Statutes. The State Police investigation has been reviewed by State’s Attorney Kevin D. Lawlor. As part of the review, State’s Attorney Lawlor has reviewed all police reports generated, all witness statements taken, examined all photos and video recordings of the scene and examined the autopsy report from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The following are the findings and legal conclusions of State’s Attorney Lawlor regarding the incident.
The State Police investigation into the death of Matthew Lofaro revealed the following:
According to Connecticut State Police and Milford Police Department records, on Wednesday, October 23, 2013, at approximately 3:15 a.m., Trooper First Class James T. Scott, assigned to Troop I, Bethany, parked his unmarked police vehicle and entered the Patriot Fuels Gas Station located at 719 Boston Post Road in Milford. Trooper Scott removed a bottle of juice from the cooler, placed the bottle on the cashier’s counter and went to use the restroom located diagonally across from the front entrance.
At approximately 3:19 a.m., Trooper Scott exited the restroom and immediately observed a white male apparently attempting to rob the cashier located 10 feet away behind the counter. This white male, subsequently identified as 28-year-old Matthew Lofaro, was wearing black sweatpants, a white T-shirt, a dark colored bandana, sun glasses and a double-vented respirator mask, nearly covering his entire face. Lofaro was holding a twenty-two inch long Japanese style sword in his right hand and the sword’s scabbard in his left hand. According to the cashier, Lofaro said “hands up” upon entering the store.
Trooper Scott, wearing his clearly identifiable State Police uniform, quickly drew his assigned duty pistol while demanding the assailant to drop the knife. In the same motion, Trooper Scott pointed his pistol at the assailant and again ordered him to “drop it.” Lofaro failed to comply with Trooper Scott’s commands and continued toward Scott and the cashier in a threatening manner. At this time, Trooper Scott discharged his pistol one time at Lofaro. Lofaro immediately turned and ran from the building exiting through the front entrance and collapsed approximately 33 feet south of the front entrance.
Trooper Scott immediately radioed Troop I in Bethany and reported “3-2-3 shots fired.” He then provided his location and requested an ambulance, a K-9 and a supervisor. Milford Police were then notified and responded. Trooper Scott remained in the store to protect the clerk. Shortly thereafter, Milford Police with the assistance of a K-9, located Lofaro who was found lying face down on the ground with the sword clasped in his right hand. Lofaro was unresponsive when found by the Milford Police. Emergency medical response responded shortly thereafter and attempted to provide assistance. After resuscitation efforts failed and EMS could not obtain a pulse, Lofaro was declared deceased.
Investigators were able to obtain surveillance video footage from cameras located inside the store which had recorded the incident. The store’s camera system is comprised of three cameras. The videos depict Trooper Scott entering the store, placing his drink on the counter, speaking briefly with the cashier and entering the restroom. Shortly thereafter, Trooper Scott is seen exiting the restroom, drawing his weapon and shouting with his weapon pointed toward the front of the store and firing a single shot. A second camera captures the incident from a frontward angle and in the lower right portion of the frame, an object, possibly the sheath or scabbard is visible. The third camera angle in the store did not record any of the incident. None of the angles from within the store directly cover the front entrance and the assailant’s image is not recorded in any view.
Once police had located the suspect, they conducted a neighborhood canvass. Officers located Lofaro’s maroon Lexus in the motel parking lot adjacent to the gas station. An individual subsequently identified as Jonathan Cenat was located asleep in the driver’s seat of the vehicle. Cenat gave several statements to investigators. He stated Lofaro had been staying with him for several months. He initially denied all knowledge of a robbery and said he did not see Lofaro with the sword or respirator in the car. He stated he only rode with Lofaro to meet a girl at the motel. He then changed his story and admitted driving the car to the motel but reiterated that he knew nothing of the store robbery or of the sword or respirator. When confronted with certain inconsistencies, he then stated that while he didn’t see anything in Lofaro’s hands but he knew something bad was going to happen. Subsequently, investigators spoke to Cenat’s girlfriend in New Jersey. Phone records indicated they had been on the phone just prior to the robbery. Cenat’s girlfriend stated she heard Lofaro tell Cenat that “it was time to go to the store” just prior to the robbery.
On October 24, 2013, Associate Medical Examiner Susan S. Williams performed an autopsy on the body of Matthew Lofaro....
Subsequently, toxicology tests were performed on the decedent’s blood. Toxicology reports indicate that Mr. Lofaro was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .221, which for comparison purposes is nearly three times the limit for the legal operation of a motor vehicle. Buprenorphine and Norbuprenorphine: synthetic opiate derivatives, were also found in measurable amounts in his blood. Dr. Williams lists the cause of death as gunshot wound of chest and manner of death as homicide.
Connecticut General Statutes Section 53a-22 authorizes the use of deadly physical force by a police officer under certain circumstances. Section 53a-22(c) provides, in pertinent part:
(c) A peace officer or authorized official of the department of correction 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;
The United States Supreme Court has sanctioned the use of fatal force in such self-defense situation and found such use of force to be reasonable. See Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985).
The United States Supreme Court has indicated:
The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989).
Also, in Graham, the Court stated that:
The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split second judgments - in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving - about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation. Supra, p. 396-397.
(T)he "reasonableness" inquiry in an excessive force case is an objective one: the question is whether the officers’ actions are "objectively reasonable" in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. Supra, p. 397.
Thus, the subjective intention of an officer whether "good" or "evil" is not the measure in analyzing the reasonableness of an officer’s conduct.
Also, an officer’s actions may be found reasonable even where "officers of reasonable competence would disagree" on the issue. Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986).
As to the rules prescribed in Graham v. Connor:
Numerous courts have interpreted Graham as requiring substantial deference to the on-scene judgments made by police officers. Russo v. U.S., 37 F.Supp. 2d 450, 455 (E.D. Va. 1999).
In assessing the propriety of an officer’s use of fatal force:
(M)ost courts limit the inquiry to the information known by the officer at the time of the shooting . . . and . . . to limit relevant evidence to police officer’s actions "immediately prior to the shooting." Russo v. U.S. at p.455.
Also, it has been held that an inquiry into an officer’s actions is limited to whether the officer acted reasonably and not to whether the officer had a less intrusive or invasive alternative available.
Requiring officers to find and choose the least intrusive alternative would require them to exercise superhuman judgment. In the heed of battle with lives potentially in the balance, an officer would not be able to rely on training and common sense to decide what would best accomplish his mission. Instead, he would need to ascertain the least intrusive alternative (an inherently subjective determination) and choose that option and that option only. Imposing such a requirement would inevitably induce tentativeness by officers, and thus deter police from protecting the public and themselves. It would also entangle the courts in endless second-guessing of police decisions made under stress and subject to the exigencies of the moment. Scott v. Henrich, 34 F.3d. 1498 (9th Cir. 1994).
In the best of all worlds, because a human life is so precious, an officer ideally, when confronted with the threat of deadly force, should take the time to dispassionately analyze the parameters of the threat and measure his or her response to that a minimum amount of force is utilized and a minimum amount of injury is inflicted.
However, police officers are trained that in reality, the ideal situation rarely, if ever, exists.
(S)tatistics reveal that about 90 percent of shooting incidents take place within a three-second time frame. Within this time frame, a police officer takes appropriate steps to stop the threat and rarely, if ever, engages in a decision making process about his intent or the degree of injury that will be inflicted. The realistic motivation is primarily reactive and designed to stop the threat or the aggressive behavior.
Attempts to shoot to wound or to injure are unrealistic and because of high-miss rates and poor stopping effectiveness can prove dangerous for police officers and others. International Association of Chiefs of Police National Law Enforcement Policy Center., "Use of Force", Concepts and Issue Paper, February 1, 1989. P. 4.
Accordingly, our law only requires that a police officer must only react reasonably under the quickly evolving circumstances.
Based on his review of the Connecticut State Police investigation and all relevant available information, State’s Attorney Lawlor makes the following conclusions:
1. On October 23, 2013, at approximately 3:15 a.m., TFC James T. Scott, assigned to Troop I Bethany, parked his unmarked police vehicle and entered the Patriot Fuels Gas Station located at 719 Boston Post Road in Milford.
2. TFC Scott asked to use the restroom, entered the restroom and re-emerged at 3:19 a.m..
3. At approximately the same time, Matthew Lofaro entered the store through the main entrance dressed all in black, his face covered with a respirator and bandana while brandishing a 22-inch Japanese martial arts type sword. Lofaro stated to the clerk behind a counter approximately 10 feet away “ hands up.”
4. Trooper Scott, in defense of himself and the cashier, reached for his service pistol and commanded Lofaro to drop his weapon. Lofaro did not comply with this command.
5. Trooper Scott pointed his weapon at Lofaro and repeated his command to drop the sword. Lofaro disregarded the command and he moved towards Trooper Scott who was standing approximately 9 feet away from his position.
6. Trooper Scott then fired his service pistol one time at Lofaro, striking him in the chest.
7. The entire incident, from the time Trooper Scott initially observes the perpetrator until he discharges his weapon, transpired in approximately two seconds.
8. Lofaro turned and fled through the main entrance. He collapsed 33 feet south of the main entrance.
9. Trooper Scott immediately radioed Troop I of the incident and requested assistance and emergency medical response.
10. Milford Police K-9 Officers responded and located Lofaro. The K-9 bit Lofaro’s leg during the apprehension causing abrasions to his leg.
11. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner lists the cause of death as gunshot wound to chest and manner of death as homicide. The toxicology report revealed the presence of alcohol with a BAC of .223 and the presence of synthetic opiate derivatives in Lofaro’s system.
Based upon the preceding facts and circumstances and the applicable law found in Connecticut General Statutes §53a-22(c) State’s Attorney Lawlor finds that the use of deadly force by Trooper First Class James Scott while confronting Matthew Lofaro during the attempted robbery of the Patriot Fuels Gas Station in the early morning of Wednesday, October 23, 2013, was appropriate under Section 53a-22 of the General Statutes. Trooper Scott was confronted with an armed, masked assailant in a very confined space only feet from himself and an innocent civilian. Both the statement of the Trooper and cashier are consistent in stating the Trooper ordered the assailant to drop his weapon and that Lofaro refused. This left Trooper Scott little choice in such a confined space but to make a split-second decision to use deadly force to defend himself and the cashier from the assailant. Accordingly, no further action will be taken by the Division of Criminal Justice.
State’s Attorney Lawlor wishes to express his condolences to the family of the deceased for their loss. Additionally, State’s Attorney Lawlor thanks the Connecticut State Police Eastern District Major Crime Squad for their thorough investigation of this matter, Chief Keith Mello and the officers of the Milford Police Department for their initial investigation and cooperation and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. This Office also wishes to thank all these agencies for working together to assure that the investigation was concluded in a timely, thorough and complete manner.