Dead lawyer’s family to appeal prosecutor immunity ruling
HARTFORD — Lawyers for the family of a Connecticut attorney found fatally shot in the head in a wrecked sport utility vehicle intend to challenge a judge’s ruling that would allow a prosecutor to refuse to answer questions about how he determined there was no evidence of a homicide.
Gugsa Abraham “Abe” Dabela was found dead in his wrecked Mercedes a short distance from his home in Redding in April 2014. The medical examiner ruled his death a suicide, and Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky III concluded there was no evidence to support the belief of Dabela’s relatives that he was murdered.
Dabela’s father sued Redding police over their handling of the investigation of his death, saying authorities rushed to judgment that Dabela killed himself. His family also believes race — Dabela was black and Redding is a predominantly white town — was a factor in the investigation’s findings, which authorities deny.
During a deposition in the lawsuit last year, Sedensky cited executive privilege in declining to answer questions about how he concluded there was no evidence of a homicide. A federal judge last week approved Sedensky’s request to bar Dabela’s lawyers from asking similar questions in the future, saying prosecutors’ decision-making processes are not open to public review because of executive and other privileges.
Sedensky has, however, released a report on Dabela’s death, listing all the evidence collected.
Keith Altman, a lawyer for Dabela’s father, said Thursday that he plans to challenge the judge’s ruling, possibly with an appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
“He said the evidence does not support the conclusion of a homicide,” Altman said, referring to Sedensky. “He refused to answer the question in terms of what was the basis of that statement. We think we should be able to question that.”
A spokeswoman for the state Attorney General’s Office, which is representing Sedensky in the lawsuit, declined to comment. Sedensky, who is a witness and not a defendant in the suit, has defended his investigation of Dabela’s death, but has declined to comment about the lawsuit.
Dabela’s family says many questions remain unanswered, including why his DNA was not found on the gun’s trigger or the bullet that killed him, why there was a footprint on his back and why his body wasn’t tested for gunshot residue.
Redding police, who deny the lawsuit’s allegations, have said the gun found in Dabela’s vehicle was his, one bullet was missing from the ammunition magazine and a bullet found on the ground at the scene matched characteristics of a bullet later test fired from Dabela’s gun.
Dabela, who grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, received a vague text message on the night of his death that read, “turn he just didn’t,” apparently referring to the SUV crash, according the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges information about the sender of the text was deleted sometime after Dabela’s death.
The lawsuit also alleges animosity between Redding officials and Dabela. It says Redding police wrongly delayed Dabela’s application for a permit to carry a concealed handgun in 2013 before finally giving it to him, and that he and a town finance official had a heated argument over property taxes two nights before his death.