Prosecutor finds New Milford cop justified in fatal shooting

NEW MILFORD — A Connecticut prosecutor said a New Milford police officer was justified when he fatally shot a man who approached officers with a shotgun last year.

State officials Thursday released a report by Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky III on the shooting of Kostatinos “Gus” Sfaelos.

New Milford police responded to Sfaelos’ home on Aug. 28, 2017, on a report that Sfaelos had a gun and was trying to kill himself. Sfaelos’ wife told police her husband was upset at being fired from his 25-year job at Costco.

Sedensky said Sfaelos was outside his home when he was shot once by Officer Christopher Hayes. Hayes told investigators he feared for his and others’ safety when Sfaelos swung the shotgun in officers’ direction after ignoring commands to drop the weapon.

The shotgun turned out not to be loaded.

Here is the report in full:

Legal Authority for the Report | Circumstances of the Incident | Medical Findings | Legal Analysis | Conclusion | Appendix: Selected Photos, Selected Diagrams, Selected Witness Statements | Footnotes

On August 28, 2017, members of the New Milford Police Department responded to a 911 call concerning 47 Outlook Road, New Milford. In the course of that response Kostatinos (Gus) Sfaelos was shot once by New Milford Police Officer Christopher Hayes in a wooded area near Mr. Sfaelos’ home at 47 Outlook Road. Mr. Sfaelos died from this injury. Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane designed this State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury to handle the investigation and review the circumstances of Kostatinos Sfaelos’ death pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 51-277a.

Legal Authority for the Report

The purpose of this report is to determine if the use of deadly physical force by Officer Christopher Hayes was appropriate under our law. Connecticut General Statute Section 51-277a provides:

(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 attorney or 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.

In accordance with Section 51-277a and relevant Division of Criminal Justice policy, on August 28, 2017 Chief State’s Attorney Kevin T. Kane referred this matter to this State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury for an investigation and the issuance of a report regarding the death of Kostatinos Sfaelos in New Milford on August 28, 2017

Judicial District of Litchfield State’s Attorney David Shepack took initial steps with law enforcement immediately after the shooting to see that the scene was preserved. The Connecticut State Police Western District Major Crime Squad was assigned to investigate the shooting with this State’s Attorney and both went to 47 Outlook Road, New Milford on the evening of August 28, 2017.

Circumstances of the Incident

On August 28, 2017 at approximately 4:55 p.m., [1] members of the New Milford Police Department responded to a 911 call from the sister of Heather Sfaelos, the wife of Kostatinos (Gus) Sfaelos. The Sfaeloses lived at 47 Outlook Road, New Milford. The sister reported that Mrs. Sfaelos had called her extremely upset. Mrs. Sfaelos had just come home from a trip. She told her sister that her husband had a gun and was trying to kill himself.  Mrs. Sfaelos was screaming and asked the sister to call 911, which she did. The 911 operator also received a call from a third party that Mrs. Sfaelos had contacted and from Mrs. Sfaelos’ mother. The mother related similar information to the 911 operators indicating that her daughter had called her after having just returned home from a vacation. She indicated that Mrs. Sfaelos was hysterical saying her husband was in the yard with a shotgun. [2]

In the course of the police response Kostatinos (Gus) Sfaelos was shot once by New Milford Police Officer Christopher Hayes in a wooded area near Mr. Sfaelos’ home at 47 Outlook Road. Mr. Sfaelos died from this injury. Mr. Sfaelos had been armed with an unloaded 20 gauge shotgun and he had three 12 gauge shotgun shells in his pocket. [3]

INVESTIGATION – THE SCENE

Members of Connecticut State Police Western District Major Crime Squad were assigned to handle the investigation on August 28, 2017 and were sent to 47 Outlook Rd. They arrived at approximately 8:10 p.m. and met with this writer. The Western District Major Crime Van personnel processed the scene, including photographs and documentation of all New Milford Police Department personnel with the exception of Office Christopher Hayes, who had been taken to the hospital. Ofc. Hayes had previously secured his rifle in the trunk of his police car and given the keys to Lt. Lawrence Ash.

Outlook Road is a paved curbed road in a wooded residential area with multiple homes in the central portion of New Milford. Mr. Sfaelos was taken to Danbury Hospital prior to the scene being processed. The area from which he was moved is a wooded area between 45 and 47 Outlook Rd. 47 Outlook Rd. is a single family home.

Mr. Sfaelos’ clothing was recovered from Danbury Hospital. Ofc. Hayes clothing and other equipment was retrieved from the New Milford Police Department. Ofc. Hayes’ duty belt, vest and clothing were taken by the New Milford Police at New Milford Hospital, secured and transferred to the State Police at New Milford Hospital.

Three 12 gauge shotgun shells recovered by Ofc. Thomas Kenney from Mr. Sfaelos’ clothing were turned over to the State Police.

Ofc. Hayes’ rifle, a Colt M4 carbine cal. 5.56 was recovered from its secure location in his police car. [4] It had one round in the chamber and 26 in the magazine. New Milford police carry a total of 28 rounds in a 30 round capacity magazine. These were Remington .223 (FC15) rounds.

The State Police located a storage shed on the 47 Outlook Rd. property. In relation to the road and the house, the shed is behind the house, though as one faces the front door of the house, the shed is a distance to the left.  When seen by the state police, the right door was slightly ajar. In addition to typical lawn maintenance equipment, they found a pool of blood containing a 4 inch Buck folding knife with a wooden handle and blood stains in it. [5]

The wooded area next to the home and between 45 and 47 Outlook Rd. was searched that night and Ofc. Hayes returned to the scene with his attorney. Directing all of his communication to the attorney, Ofc. Hayes showed the state police where he was when he fired his rifle, a location at a rock wall. Located in the same area was one spent  .223 Remington (FC15) cartridge casing, labeled Exhibit 6. This casing is consistent with the ammunition in Ofc. Hayes rifle. [6]

Approximately eighty-four feet further into the woods and away from Outlook Rd. was an area of clothing, medical debris and a shotgun, labeled Exhibit 7.  The shotgun was slightly away from the medical debris consistent with having been moved away from Mr. Sfaelos when he was being administered first aid. [7]

The shotgun was seized and determined to be unloaded. It was a Brown Invictor 20 gauge shotgun. No shotgun shells were located in its vicinity. The three shotgun shells recovered from Mr. Sfaelos’ clothing were 12 gauge shotgun shells and would not have fit into the 20 gage shotgun. [8]

Videos from the dashboard cameras of three New Milford police cars were reviewed. Two of the videos recorded only the initial response and did not record the cars arriving at the scene or thereafter. [9] One video from Car #9 (Exhibit 28) recorded arriving at the location and a period of time thereafter. This police car was parked down the street and the recording shows officers going into the woods at a distance. It ends while the officers are still in the woods and out of view for a total recording time of 23 minutes. [10]

INVESTIGATION – THE WITNESSES

The information from the following witnesses was obtained from the State Police investigation led by the primary case officer Det. William Flynn of the Connecticut State Police Western District Major Crime Squad.

Lay Witnesses

A number of lay witnesses were interviewed by Det. Flynn.

  • Heather Sfaelos

On August 28, 2017 Heather Sfaelos, Mr. Sfaelos’ wife spoke briefly with Connecticut State Police Sgt. Duva when she returned to 47 Outlook Rd. to get some things. Mrs. Sfaelos indicated that her husband had been distant as of late and that he had recently been fired from his job at Costco. He was not on any medication, had never attempted or stated that he was suicidal and had not ever been diagnosed with any mental illness. Mrs. Sfaelos felt that maybe he had had some mental health issue that was never diagnosed.

Mrs. Sfaelos had been out of state at a family reunion and Mr. Sfaelos had stayed home. When she returned home she found Mr. Sfaelos sitting on the living room couch holding a shotgun that they had in the home. Mr. Sfaelos told her that he wanted to die but waited for her to come home to take care of the dogs. She said that Mr. Sfaelos walked out of the house with the shotgun. While he was standing in the driveway he said that he was going to have the police shoot him. [11]

Mrs. Sfaelos was interviewed by Det. Flynn on December 17, 2017 regarding the incident. In the days immediately following Mr. Sfaelos’ death Mrs. Sfaelos had declined to be interviewed.

The below information is taken from the Det. Flynn’s police report and a review of the video of Mrs. Sfaelos’ December 17 th interview. A written statement was not taken.

Mrs. Sfaelos indicated that Mr. Sfaelos, whom she called “Gus,” was an employee of the Costco store in Brookfield for 25 years. He was discharged from Costco on August 18, 2017. This had upset Mr. Sfaelos. It was a good job.

Mrs. Sfaelos had been away for 11 days at a family reunion and returned home on August 28 th . She stated that she called Gus a few times while away, things appeared fine and he sounded like his normal self. She stated that she returned home at 4:40 p.m. and parked in the garage. She walked inside, was greeted by her dogs and looked into the living room where she saw Gus sitting with a gun. She jokingly said to him, “Gus! What the heck are you gonna do, shoot me or something”? He replied “No.” She continued, “You’re not going to kill me are you?”  To which he again said no. When Mrs. Sfaelos asked what was going on, Gus replied, “It’s time for me to go.” Mrs. Sfaelos asked him “Where are you going?” He told her that that he had done some stupid things, hadn’t been feeling himself lately and he had been fired from Costco.

He told her that he would never be able to get another job again like Costco. Not another job with as good a pay and benefits. Mrs. Sfaelos told him everything would be ok and asked multiple times for him to give her the gun.

Gus told her that he had taken Percocet earlier and that it was from her prescription and that he had thrown it back up. Mrs. Sfaelos said she had a script from knee replacement surgery and believed that there were only about twenty pills left in the bottle.

She asked for the gun again and Gus stated that he didn’t want to do anything because he wanted to make sure the dogs were taken care of. He told her not to look and to just go away and that his brother would take care of her. She said this didn’t make any sense to her since he didn’t speak with his brother and she had only met him a few times. She asked him where he got the gun and he said it was hers. Mrs. Sfaelos said it was her 20 gauge pump shot gun that she had used when she hunted with her father many years ago.

Mrs. Sfaelos then went to get the gun from Gus, touched him and saw that she now had blood on her hands. Gus told her that he had tried to cut his wrist. She saw the wounds on his wrists and they appeared to be superficial. Gus then told her that he was going to go outside and told her not to follow, but she did.

Once outside Gus walked toward the shed, stopped and while she was talking to him he pumped the gun. She told Gus that she as going to call her sister and see if she could talk to him. She made the call and put her sister on speaker phone and told her what was going on and had her try to talk to Gus but he was not listening. She then asked her sister to call the police. She told Gus the police were on their way and that he needed to speak to them and get help. While waiting for the police to arrive Gus had asked a few times “Where are the police?” After a few minutes she saw a police car on the road and realized that an officer had arrived and told Gus that she was going to get him and bring him help.

Mrs. Sfaelos she ran over and met with Sgt. Brady who she stayed with her for the rest of the incident. She told Sgt. Brady that her husband Gus was distraught, he wanted to hurt himself and that he had a gun and she believes it was loaded. She saw other officers with assault weapons moving in and getting closer and told Sgt. Brady that someone needs to talk to Gus because she was afraid that Gus was going to point the gun at the police. She asked Sgt. Brady why are they were going in with guns because if you go in with guns he will point a gun at you and you are going to shoot him. She said please don’t kill him; you need to talk to him. She told Sgt. Brady to have the officers shoot him in the leg or arm and not to kill him.

Mrs. Sfaelos went on the state to Sgt. Brady that she was afraid that Gus would become scared and point the gun at the cops and get shot and asked Sgt. Brady, “Don’t you call that ‘suicide by cop’?” when someone points a gun on purpose and then you shoot them”. She asked that someone talk to Gus because she was afraid he would do that.

Mrs. Sfaelos was able to hear over the police radios that Gus was running and she heard requests for a K-9, a negotiator and maybe even a helicopter. She further stated that she had asked Sgt. Brady why he was not relaying all the information she told him to the other officers.

After a number of minutes they requested a negotiator and she heard a gunshot. She initially thought, “Oh no, did he shoot a police officer?” She asked Sgt. Brady if everyone was alright. Did an officer get shot? Is her husband dead? She stated he never said anything to her. She stated another officer then ran up to where they were and grabbed a medical bag from the car and went back into the woods. She then heard on the radio that the suspect was shot. She asked Sgt. Brady more questions, asking where Gus had been shot and did not get any answers. She eventually learned that he had been shot in the stomach or torso and that EMT’s were working on him.

Mrs. Sfaelos was told her house was now a crime scene and that she would not be allowed in for some time. She heard them call for the fire department and saw them arrive. She saw them carrying her husband out of the woods in a basket and asked to speak with him before leaving but she was not allowed to which upset her. She was told they were taking him to New Milford Hospital and was transported there by police only to find out he was taken to Danbury Hospital instead.

She and her family went to Danbury Hospital where they eventually were told that Gus had passed away. They waited at the hospital for a detective to arrive and speak with them but no one ever arrived. She stated that she eventually spoke with State Police when she returned home to get her dogs and her medications.

With follow up questions from Det. Flynn, Mrs. Sfaelos also stated that she heard the police yelling to Gus “Drop the gun. Drop the Gun. You don’t want to do this.” She stated they said that maybe four times and that she could hear that clearly even when they were in the woods. She did not hear Gus reply to any of these calls, nor could she see Gus in the woods. In an e-mail to this writer, Mrs. Sfaelos indicated that the only thing she heard from the police was “Drop the gun” around 3 times and nothing else. In the same e-mail she indicated that she pleaded that they get someone to talk to him.

When asked if the police were familiar with her or their home she stated that there was no history of violence and the police had not been to their home. When asked if Gus had ever spoken of or shared thoughts of wanting to harm himself, Heather stated “No”.

In July and August 2018 this writer spoke with Mrs. Sfaelos by telephone and also exchanged e-mails. She was asked her to review the State Police reports concerning her statements to them. In regards to her dealings with Sgt. Duva, Mrs. Sfaelos indicated that Mr. Sfaelos walked to the shed when he went outside with the gun and not to the driveway. Also she said that Mr. Sfaelos never said that he was going to have the police shoot him. He said that he was going to shoot himself over by the shed and that he wanted Mrs. Sfaelos to go walk away and not see it.  Mrs. Sfaelos also indicated in an e-mail regarding her interaction with Sgt. Brady that she was screaming at the police not to kill her husband, but to shoot him in the arm or the leg. After the shooting, the police would not let her see her husband in the ambulance before he was taken to the hospital.

Mrs. Sfaelos also indicated that after she called her sister and another person, she called the New Milford Police to see where they were. She did not recall if she called 911 or another number. In a follow up e-mail, Mrs. Sfaelos indicated that she called 911 herself, though such a call could not be located. She said that she remembered them telling her they were transferring her directly to the New Milford police, who then told her the police were on their way. She said that she told the New Milford police that her husband had a gun and wanted to hurt himself.

With regard to her interview with Det. Flynn, Mrs. Sfaelos stressed that she was concerned that Sgt. Brady was not communicating to the officers in the woods that her husband was suicidal and her concerns. She was afraid her husband would point the gun at the police and the police would shoot him.

Mrs. Sfaelos didn’t understand why the police would shoot her husband as it happened when they knew he was suicidal. She feels the New Milford Police Department was negligent in not having some form of crisis intervention available to address her husband’s situation. They should have had someone to talk to him other than the police officers who were telling him to put down the gun.

Neighbor TS gave a written statement on August 29, 2017. [13]

A neighbor of the Sfaeloses, TS, was outside his home at about 5:00 p.m. saw a police car pull in front of his drive way. The officer told TS to go inside because there was a dispute going on with a neighbor. He went inside and looked out his window. He heard Mrs. Sfaelos telling a police officer in his driveway that Gus would point the weapon at the police and that she had told Gus not to point the gun at the police or they would shoot him. TS heard the police speaking to Gus telling him that they could resolve this, to come out and to put the weapon down. TS saw the police with rifles but did not see or hear Gus at any time. TS recalled the police speaking to Gus for about 15 minutes before TS heard the gunshot and then silence. He then saw a police officer run to a police car and get a bag. TS called his wife at 5:22 to tell her he had heard a gunshot.

  • Driver KM

Witness KM provided a written statement on September 13, 2017. [14]

A person, KM, driving on Outlook Rd. at the time of the shooting indicated that as he drove up Outlook Rd. he came up behind a stopped police car. He heard shouting in the woods to his left and heard commands to “Come out,” “Stop moving around,” and the command to “Drop” something. He heard these commands multiple times from his car. KM heard no response to the commands. He saw an officer enter the woods with a weapon pointed down. As he started to back down Outlook Rd., he was still hearing commands and as he was about to back into a driveway to turn around he heard what he believed to be a single gunshot. As he drove back down Outlook Rd., he passed an ambulance traveling to the location he had just left.

Other lay witnesses were spoken to, but they did not see or hear anything relevant to the investigation.

POLICE WITNESSES

  • Officer Christopher Hayes

Officer Christopher Hayes provided a prepared written statement to Det. Flynn which he signed in the presence of Det. Flynn, Det. Vayan and Ofc. Hayes’ attorney Craig Manemeit. Ofc Hayes has been a New Milford police officer since April 2014.  Below are the relevant portions of Ofc. Hayes’ statement. [15]

At approximately 4:51 p.m. I was on a radar detail on Wellsville Avenue in the area of Aspetuck Village when I heard a police dispatcher call Officer Kenney, Sergeant Brady and me over the police radio. The dispatcher reported that there was a male in possession of a shotgun who was having suicidal thoughts at 47 Outlook Drive. [16] At the time, the only other information I remember receiving was that the caller was reportedly the man’s wife. 47 Outlook Drive is located in the Sector 4 patrol area and I was approximately a mile and a half away from the residence when I was dispatched. At the time it was bright and sunny out and there was a light amount of vehicular traffic in the area.

I activated my overhead lights…   …Outlook Drive immediately past number 47.

I exited my patrol vehicle and retrieved my department issued patrol rifle from the trunk of my cruiser and walked to the end of the driveway at 47 Outlook Drive. I could see that the residence was a single family, two story dwelling. I could see a female who was later identified as Heather Sfaelos (DOB XX/XX/XX) [17] standing outside of the residence near the porch holding a telephone. I could see that she was crying and was visibly shaken. I repeatedly asked Heather to walk towards Sergeant Brady and me.         Initially, Heather did not comply and remained near the residence. I did not advance up the driveway because I did not know where the man with the shotgun was located. Heather pointed towards what appeared to be a white colored tent located in the rear of the residence approximately three hundred feet from our location. She told us that her husband “Gus” (later identified as Kostatinos Sfaelos DOB 06/03/55) was in possession of a shotgun and that he was in a nearby wooded area. The wooded area was approximately two hundred feet past the white tent like structure.

After asking Heather approximately five to six times to walk to our location at the end of the driveway, she complied and walked towards us. Heather said she did not want to leave her husband because he had already racked a round [18] into the chamber of the shotgun and told her that he was going to use the shotgun as soon as she left. She also told us that Gus had already cut both of his wrists and that there were no other individuals located inside of the residence. At this time, Sergeant Brady escorted Heather to the safety of his cruiser. Based on the information Heather supplied, I radioed dispatch and requested that EMS personnel be dispatched to the area and stage at a safe distance.

A few minutes later, I saw Lieutenant Ash arrive followed by Officer Kenney and then Officer April. I radioed for Officer Kenney to” block off the roadway with his cruiser and he did so by parking his cruiser on Outlook Drive in an area in front of my cruiser and across both lanes of traffic. Officers then began setting up more of a perimeter. Sergeant Brady remained with Heather at his cruiser while I positioned myself behind cover along the wood line directly across the street from the driveway to #47. Officer April moved to my right and entered the woods for what I believed to be a better line of sight on the opposite side of the residence where I was unable to see anything. Lt Ash and Officer Kenney were positioned to my left along the wood line parallel with Outlook Drive.

I then heard Officer Kenney begin to yell repeatedly in the direction of the woods that he was the police and for Gus to come out and drop his weapon and that we were there to help him. Several minutes later, Officer Kenney advised Officers (sic) on scene that he had established visual contact with Gus. I moved across the street and met with Officer Kenney and Lt Ash. Lt Ash advised that Gus was approximately 40 yards away from our location in the woods past a large embankment. At this time I was still unable to see Gus so I advanced past Lt Ash and Officer Kenney in an attempt to make visual contact. I came upon a stone wall located approximately 20 feet into the tree line which was parallel with Outlook Drive. I positioned myself behind that stone wall to maintain proper cover and was able to see that Gus was approximately 75-80 feet in front and slightly to the left of my location.

When I first saw Gus, he was walking towards us and then stopped. He was holding what appeared to be a shotgun, waist level, across his body with the muzzle facing towards his left side and he had his right hand over the top of the trigger guard. I immediately yelled for Gus to drop the weapon and could hear Officer Kenney repeating commands such as “Gus drop your weapon” and “We don’t want to hurt you Gus, just drop the weapon.” After a short period of time, Gus began moving forward towards us. As he began to approach, I saw Gus take a step forward and begin to swing the shotgun away from his body towards my direction. At that point, I felt in fear for both my safety and the safety of other officers and people in the area. There were numerous homes in the area with unknown occupancy and we did not have enough man power at the scene or time to establish enough of a perimeter to check or protect occupants of the homes. I fired a single shot to stop Gus after it became apparent that he was not complying with our requests to drop the shotgun. I do not have a specific recollection of the amount of time that had elapsed from the time officers began giving verbal commands to Gus to the time I discharged my weapon but would estimate that it was several minutes.

Gus immediately fell to the ground face down. Lt Ash, Officer Kenney and I then began to move forward towards Gus’ location while maintaining cover. As I got closer, I saw a shotgun on the ground near Gus’ feet. Gus was lying on his chest and not making any statements. He had his right arm under his chest so that Officers were unable to determine if he had another weapon in his possession. I provided cover for Officer Kenney who was able to pull Gus’ arm out from beneath him. No other weapon was discovered. I then gave Officer Kenney my handcuffs to secure Gus and officers then began to render medical aid. Officer April arrived at our location with a medical bag that included an AED and bag valve mask with oxygen. I opened my Quikclot package and pressure dressings and gave them to Officer Kenney and Officer April as they continued assisting Gus.

Lt Ash then asked me to step away and remain with the shotgun which had been moved away from Gus’ location. I remained with that firearm as EMS personnel arrived and took over treatment. Minutes later, I was relieved from my position by Officer Kenney and went back to my cruiser where I secured my rifle in the cruiser trunk and handed the vehicles keys to Lt Ash.

I then began to experience immediate and extreme dehydration and felt chest pain. As a result, LT Ash requested a second ambulance respond to the scene and a short time later I was transported to the New Milford Hospital Emergency Room where I was treated and later released. Prior to my release, NMPD Detectives met with me at the hospital and took possession of my duty belt and uniform shirt/bullet proof vest for evidentiary purposes. Once released from the hospital, I returned to the New Milford Police Department where I met with other Detectives and eventually members of the Connecticut State Police.

That concludes Officer Hayes’ written statement.

Officer Hayes returned to the scene at 10:25 pm and with his attorney Craig Manemeit and the police union representative New Milford Police Department Sergeant Wheeler walked through the scene with State Police Detective Daniel Silby. Ofc. Hayes showed Det. Silby where he was when he fired his rifle.

  • Officer Thomas Kenney

New Milford Police Officer Thomas Kenney provided a statement on September 22, 2017. [19]

At 4:53 p.m. Ofc. Kenney while working was dispatched to 47 Outlook Rd., New Milford on August 28, 2017. He got out of his car and armed himself with a police rifle. He was able to hear Sgt. Brady speaking with Mrs. Sfaelos. He heard Mrs. Sfaelos tell Sgt. Brady that her husband had left the house with a shotgun, that he was bleeding, and that he had made a comment that he was going to point his gun at the police and make them shoot him. Ofc. Hayes told Ofc. Kenney that Mr. Sfaelos was last seen walking into a wooded area near the property.

Ofc. Kenney took a position by a tree and was told to call Mr. Sfaelos “Gus.” He saw Gus standing in a wooded area near a small shed. He spoke to Gus and told him that they were the police and were there to help him. He asked Gus to walk out toward the road. Gus then stepped out of Officer Kenney’s sight, into the wooded area. Ofc. Kenney notified other officers, retrieved binoculars from his gear bag and continued to yell for Gus. He could hear Gus moving through the woods but could not see him.

Ofc. Kenney then saw Gus walking along an overgrown area and notified other officers. Ofc. Kenney then took up another position of cover and had a clear view of Gus who was about 45 yards away. Ofc. Kenney saw Ofc. Hayes move to a position between Lt. Ash and Ofc. Kenney. Ofc. April had moved to a position in the yard of 47 Outlook Rd. above where Gus was standing. Ofc. Kenney saw that Gus was holding a pump action shotgun.

Ofc. Kenney yelled for Gus to stop and drop the gun. Gus stopped, but he refused to comply and drop the weapon. During one of the times Ofc. Kenney was yelling at Gus to drop the weapon Ofc. Kenney and Gus made eye contact. Ofc. Kenney saw Gus shake his head from side to side in a manner to indicate that he was not going to drop the gun. Ofc. Kenney saw Gus take a step forward and stop. Ofc. Kenney continued to yell commands at Gus. Ofc. Kenney heard a shot and Gus fell to the ground, coming to rest on his stomach. Ofc. Kenney was able to tell that the shot came from Ofc. Hayes’ rifle.

Ofc. Kenney instructed Ofc. Hayes to stay back. Ofc. Kenney, Lt. Ash and Ofc. April then approached Gus, whose right hand was under his body in the area of the waist band. . Ofc. Kenney ordered Gus to show his hands, but Gus did not comply. Lt. Ash and Ofc. April provided cover while Ofc. Kenney secured Gus’ hands. Lt. Ash moved the shotgun away from Gus. Gus was then searched for weapons. No other weapons were located. Three 12 gauge shotgun shells were removed from Gus’ sweatshirt pockets. [20] The officers then provided medical attention to Gus until EMS took over and then took Gus to the hospital. The wooded area was then secured.

  • Lieutenant Lawrence Ash

Lt. Ash gave a written statement on September 12, 2017. [21]

On August 28, 2017 Lt. Lawrence Ash responded to 47 Outlook Rd. Though dressed in civilian clothes, he put on his black ballistic vest with police markings upon his arrival at the scene. Lt. Ash was aware from the police dispatcher that the police had been called about Mr. Sfaelos and that he had cut his wrists and was armed with a shotgun.

After getting his rifle, Lt. Ash told Ofc. Hayes to take a cover position and directed Sgt. Brady to move away from the driveway. Lt. Ash contacted the police dispatcher and requested additional resources including a K-9, air support and a negotiator. He heard Ofc. Kenney say that he saw the male party and that he was in possession of a shotgun. Ofc. Kenney also indicated that the subject had racked a round into the chamber. [22]

Lt. Ash heard Ofc. Kenney repeatedly yell for Mr. Sfaelos to drop the gun. He yelled for him to come out of the wood without the weapon and that no one wanted to hurt him and that we wanted to get him some help.

Lt. Ash went to get binoculars for Ofc. Kenney and then Lt. Ash returned to the tree where Ofc. Kenney was. Ofc. Kenney changed his location to another tree and Lt. Ash heard Ofc. Kenney indicate that he could see Mr. Sfaelos and that he was carrying a shotgun. Ofc. Kenney repeated his command for Mr. Sfaelos to drop the gun. These commands were not followed and Lt. Ash never heard Mr. Sfaelos say anything.

Ofc. Hayes moved to a position forward and to the left of Lt. Ash. Lt. Ash could see Mr. Sfaelos upper torso in a standing position in the brush. Mr. Sfaelos was walking toward the police officers. Ofc. Kenney continued to yell to Mr. Sfaelos to drop the gun. Lt. Ash lost sight of Mr. Sfaelos and then heard a gunshot followed by Ofc. Kenney yelling that Mr. Sfaelos was down.

Lt. Ash estimated that he had been on the scene for about 15 minutes when the shot was fired. He entered the wood and saw Mr. Sfaelos lying on the ground with a shotgun on the ground near him. Lt. Ash moved the shotgun out of Mr. Sfaelos reach. Mr. Sfaelos was checked for other weapons and then administered first aid.

Lt. Ash learned that it was Ofc. Hayes who had fired his weapon. Mr. Sfaelos was transported to the hospital. Ofc. Hayes was separately transported to the hospital.

  • Sergeant James Brady

Sergeant James Brady provided a written statement September 12, 2017. [23]

On August 28, 2017, Sgt. James Brady was working as the evening shift Sergeant. He had also worked the day shift. At 4:51 p.m. he was dispatched with Officers Kenney and Hayes to 47 Outlook Rd. on a report of a suicidal male party who had cut his wrists and had a shotgun.

Officer Hayes was already at the scene when Sgt. Brady arrived. Ofc. Hayes and Sgt. Brady spoke with Heather Sfaelos in her driveway. She was tearful and upset. They asked her to walk to the end of the drive to be under cover, but she refused, saying that her husband would shoot himself once she left the property. Eventually they were able to get Mrs. Sfaelos to come to the end of the driveway and to Sgt. Brady’s police car. Mrs. Sfaelos described her husband who went by the name “Gus.”  She indicated that he had taken a bottle of Percocet which only made him sick. He had cut his wrists and was bleeding. Gus had lost his job of 25 years and waited until she returned home to shoot himself so she could take care of the dogs. He had kept asking when the police were coming. Mrs. Sfaelos last saw Gus by the shed in the back of the house with a 20 gauge shotgun, into which she heard him rack a round. She thought he was waiting for the police to arrive so that he could get the police to shoot him. Sgt. Brady was able to relay some of that information to Ofc. April and Lt. Ash.

After speaking with Mrs. Sfaelos, Sgt. Brady heard Ofc. Kenney shouting repeatedly “Drop the Gun, show me your hands, Gus talk to me, don’t shake your head no.” Sgt. Brady did not hear any response from Mr. Sfaelos. Sgt. Brady then heard a gunshot. He grabbed his medical bag and ran it down to Ofc. April.  Mrs. Sfaelos was upset and Sgt. Brady tried to comfort her and needed to keep her from running into the woods. He drove Mrs. Sfaelos to New Milford Hospital where Mrs. Sfaelos met her sister and other family members who then took her down to Danbury Hospital.

  • Officer Keith April

Officer Keith April gave a written statement on September 12, 2017. [24]

On duty New Milford Ofc. Keith April responded to 47 Outlook Road on August 28, 2017 at approximately 4:51 p.m. on a call of an armed man threatening to hurt himself.  Ofc. April learned that Mr. Sfaelos was about 40 yards into the woods. He saw Sgt. Brady with Mrs. Sfaelos and heard her say that Mr. Sfaelos was going to have the police shoot him.

In the course of taking up a position with his rifle, Ofc. April heard Ofc. Kenney give commands to Mr. Sfaelos to drop the gun and come out. Ofc. Kenney was calling Mr. Sfaelos “Gus.” At one point Ofc. April had a view of Mr. Sfaelos and saw what appeared to be a shotgun in his hands. Ofc. Kenney continued with his commands to Mr. Sfaelos to drop the gun and come out with his hands up. He saw Mr. Sfaelos begin moving towards the officers and they ordered him to stop, which he did not do. Mr. Sfaelos also did not verbally respond. Ofc. April then lost sight of Mr. Sfaelos and Ofc. April moved his position and could only see Mr. Sfaelos’ upper body and head. He then heard a gunshot and Mr. Sfaelos was out of view.

Ofc. Kenney reported that Mr. Sfaelos was down and yelled for him to show his hands. Mr. Sfaelos was checked for weapons and handcuffed. [25] Ofc. April found multiple unfired shotgun shells in Mr. Sfaelos’ clothing. He then ran to Sgt. Brady’s cruiser and got a medical bag, returned to Mr. Sfaelos and started providing medical attention. Mr. Sfaelos was conscious, but not speaking. When EMS arrived, care of Mr. Sfaelos was turned over to them.

MEDICAL FINDINGS   

Dr. Angela McGuire, Associate Medical Examiner performed the autopsy on Mr. Sfaelos on August 29, 2017 at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Dr. McGuire determined that Mr. Sfaelos’ cause of death was a gunshot wound of the torso and the manner of death was suicide. Connecticut State Police Trooper First Class Matthew Reilly attended the autopsy.

Dr. McGuire noted in her suicide finding that Mr. Sfaelos intentionally provoked police to shoot. It is unclear from the autopsy where the information to support this conclusion was obtained. This state’s attorney’s report considers the reports, statements, evidence from the state police investigation, correspondence and conversation with Mr. Sfaelos’ wife, as well as the autopsy report in reaching the conclusions.

The autopsy toxicology report revealed the following information:

Oxycodone – Free – positive – 9.3 ng/mL

The following injuries were noted by the autopsy:

Mr. Sfaelos had a single gunshot entrance wound of the right chest area. There was no fouling or stippling regarding the entrance wound. There was an exit wound to his right back area. [26]

Additionally, Mr. Sfaelos’ left and right wrists had at least 21 discrete incised wounds, 12 on the left and 9 on the right. These wounds were superficial in nature, not injuring any major blood vessels.

Mr. Sfaelos arrived dressed in hospital clothing. His own clothing was not submitted to the medical examiner. [27]

LEGAL ANALYSIS

The applicable law in this case is C.G.S. Sec. 53a-22(c) which states in relevant part:

  1. c) A peace officer, … …is justified in using deadly physical force upon another person… …only when he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to: (1) Defend himself or herself 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 or she 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 or she has given warning of his or her intent to use deadly physical force.

In State v. Smith , 73 Conn App. 173, 185, cert denied  262 Conn. 923 (2002), the Connecticut Appellate Court stated the standard to be used in determining if an officer’s use of force was justified and reasonable.  In making this determination, the Court held that one must look at both the “subjective” and “objective” reasonableness of the officer’s conduct. Using this two-step analysis, one must look first at whether or not based on the evidence the officer honestly believed that deadly force was necessary and if honestly believed that that belief was objectively reasonable.

In the present case, Officer Hayes arrived at the scene with the knowledge or reasonably believing that:

  1. He was responding to a call of a male with a shotgun and that the male may have been emotionally disturbed and was threatening to kill himself;
  2. The male, Mr. Sfaelos, was repeatedly displaying what appeared to be a firearm, to wit a shotgun and refused all commands to drop the shotgun;
  3. The shotgun was loaded, Mr. Sfaelos having been heard to have racked a round of ammunition into the shotgun;
  4. Mr. Sfaelos approached the police with the shotgun even after being warned not to do so by the police;
  5. Mr. Sfaelos raised the gun from the position that it was in; and
  6. Ofc. Hayes’ life, the other officers’ lives and the lives of others in the area were in jeopardy when Mr. Sfaelos raised the gun.

It was objectively reasonable for Officer Hayes to assume the gun was loaded and capable of firing projectiles that could kill him or those around him. It should be noted that Ofc. Hayes fired only one shot, that which he reasonably believed to be necessary to stop Mr. Sfaelos from killing or injuring others or Ofc. Hayes. It is the reasonable belief of the officer at the time he is called to act. The fact that the gun was unloaded is not part of the analysis.

Based on the facts of this case, as determined from the Connecticut State Police investigation, including witness statements, the 911 call, the Medical Examiner’s autopsy report and correspondence and conversation with Mrs. Sfaelos, this State’s Attorney has determined that Officer Christopher Hayes subjectively believed that deadly physical force was necessary and that belief was objectively reasonable under our law.  Officer Hayes acted within the parameters of C.G.S. Sec 53a-22(c) in that he reasonably believed deadly force was necessary to defend himself or a third person from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force.

As the United States Supreme Court has stated on the Fourth Amendment issue of the use of force by police:

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 … 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.”  (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.)

Graham v. Connor , 490 U.S. 386, 396-97, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed 2d 443 (1989 ).

CONCLUSION

This State’s Attorney extends his condolences to Mrs. Sfaelos on the death of her husband Kostatinos Sfaelos on August 28, 2017 under truly sad circumstances.

Based on the facts determined to exist in this case this State’s Attorney finds that New Milford Police Officer Christopher Hayes was justified under C.G.S. Sec. 53a-22(c) in using deadly physical force upon another person. He was justified based upon his reasonable belief that the use of such force was necessary to defend himself and others.  As such, the use of deadly force was appropriate under C.G.S. Sec. 51-277a and no further action will be taken by the Division of Criminal Justice as a result of this incident.

This State’s Attorney thanks the Connecticut State Police Western District Major Crime Squad for their thorough investigation and the New Milford Police Department for their cooperation.

Dated at Danbury, Connecticut this 19 th day of December 2018.

/s/

Stephen J. Sedensky III
State’s Attorney
Judicial District of Danbury

APPENDIX

Appendix: Selected Photos, Selected Diagrams, Selected Witness Statements –  (PDF File – Size 3MB)

FOOTNOTES

[1] Sunset was at 7:33 p.m. on August 28, 2017 in New Milford.

[2] As noted elsewhere in this report, Mrs. Sfaelos recalled to this writer that that she had also called the police. No record of this call was found.

[3] The three 12 gauge shotgun shells could not be fired from the 20 gauge shotgun. See Exhibit 1 in Appendix A-2.

[4] See Exhibit 2 in Appendix A-2.

[5] See Appendix A-5 and A-6.

[6] See Appendix A-3 and A-4.

[7] See Appendix A-3 and A-4.

[8] See Appendix A-2 and A-4.

[9] Police cars 15, Exhibit 29 and 26, Exhibit 30.

[10] While not part of this report, this video can be viewed by following this link.

[11] Mrs. Sfaelos has indicated to this writer that she did not tell Sgt. Duva that Mr. Sfaelos said that he was going to have the police shoot him.

[12] The following two lay witnesses are referred to by their initials. This writer called neighbor TS in preparation of this report and did not hear back from TS.

[13] TS’s full statement is in Appendix A-7 to 8.

[14] KM’s full statement is in Appendix A-9 to 10.

[15] Officer Hayes’ full statement is in Appendix A-11 to A-13.

[16] The road involved is believed to be Outlook Road.

[17] Redacted.

[18] This expression “rack a round” refers the action of moving the shotgun’s fore-end (a sliding handle colloquially known as a pump) back and forth. This action makes a distinctive sound and loads a shotgun cartridge or shell into the firing chamber of the shotgun.

[19] Officer Kenney’s full written statement is in Appendix A-14 to A-15.

[20] The shotgun that Mr. Sfaelos had was a 20 gauge shotgun which fires ammunition smaller in diameter than a 12 gauge shotgun shell.

[21] Lt. Ash’s full statement is in Appendix A-16 to A-18.

[22] While Ofc. Kenney’s statement does not reflect his having heard that Mr. Sfaelos had racked a round into the chamber of the shotgun, Ofc. Hayes and Sgt. Brady report having heard Mrs. Sfaelos say that.

[23] Sgt. Brady’s full statement is in Appendix A-19 to A-20.

[24] Officer April’s full statement is in Appendix A-21 to A-23.

[25] The handcuffs were removed once EMS started their care of Mr. Sfaelos.

[26] No bullet was recovered either at the autopsy or at the scene.

[27] This clothing was recovered by the State Police.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.