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Marrero v. City of Hartford

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

November 15, 2017

MARIA MARRERO, Administratrix for the Estate of Ernesto Morales, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF HARTFORD, JAMES ROVELLA, KENNETH MEDINA, WILLIAM COTE, KENNETH LABBE, and ROBERT IOVANNA, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          WARREN W. EGINTON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is an excessive force action by plaintiff Maria Marrero on behalf of decedent, Ernesto Morales. Plaintiff's claims include excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and the Connecticut Constitution (Counts I and IV); assault and battery (Count II); reckless and wanton misconduct (Count III); and municipal liability pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 52-557n and 7-465 (Count V). Defendants City of Hartford, Chief of Police James Rovella, Officers Kenneth Medina, William Cote, Kenneth Labbe, and Robert Iovanna have moved for summary judgment on all counts. For the following reasons, defendants' motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND

         The following background was gleaned from the parties' statements of fact, affidavits, deposition transcripts, and other exhibits, including video from a surveillance camera at the scene.

         On July 11, 2012, at 1:00 a.m., four Hartford police officers - William Cote, Kenneth Medina, Kenneth Labbe, and Robert Iovanna - were traveling east in a police cruiser on Park Street when they observed a known drug dealer riding a bicycle south on Wadsworth Street.

         Officer Labbe engaged the cyclist in a brief conversation about operating the bike after dark without proper illumination. The parties then continued on their respective ways.

         The officers returned to the area fifteen minutes later, where they observed the same individual on foot. The officers decided to search for the bicycle to see whether they could locate any evidence of contraband, so they pulled into the parking lot at 60 Wadsworth Street, where they spotted a bicycle leaning against a fence to the south of the parking lot.

         Officer Medina exited the police cruiser and walked toward the bicycle. As he approached, he observed passengers in a parked Honda station wagon. Medina stopped near the front passenger quarter panel and said loudly to the occupants, “Let me see your hands!” Officer Iovanna immediately exited the right rear passenger side of the police cruiser and approached the driver's side of the Honda. Officer Cote also exited the cruiser, while Medina and Iovanna continued to order the occupants of the Honda to show their hands.

         The driver of the Honda, Ernesto Morales, reached for something in the cabin, then started the ignition. Officer Iovanna yelled, “He's going to go!” As the Honda began to proceed forward, Labbe drove the nose of the police cruiser into the front left quarter panel of the Honda to prevent it from leaving the parking area. At this point, the three other officers had surrounded the Honda with their guns drawn. The Honda then reversed briefly away from the police cruiser before returning forward and to the right, around the front of the cruiser into the parking lot.

         Officer Cote contends that he was standing in front of the police cruiser, unprotected, as the Honda accelerated toward him, but plaintiff maintains that Cote positioned himself behind the nose of the cruiser, outside the forward path of the Honda. A parking lot surveillance camera captured the incident, but it was positioned at the far end of the lot. The angle of the camera makes it difficult to pinpoint Officer Cote's precise location relative to the Honda.

         Cote fired seven rounds into the Honda, killing Morales. As the station wagon progressed across Cote's location, three bullets entered the front windshield; two bullets entered the driver's side window; and a sixth bullet entered through the driver's side rear passenger window, striking the Morales in the back. The ballistics of the seventh bullet are unknown. Plaintiff contends that the trajectory reports indicate that each of Cote's shots was fired from a position outside the Honda's path of travel. Moreover, plaintiff submits that Cote continued to discharge his weapon after the station wagon had proceeded away from him.

         The Honda sped past Cote, across the parking lot, and through the adjacent lawn where it crashed through the wall of a residential apartment.

         As of July 11, 2012, James C. Rovella was employed by the City of Hartford as the Interim Chief of ...


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