CT Towns Pay Out Big for Deadly SWAT Drug Raid
By Phillip Smith
Drug War Chronicle
February 26, 2013
Five Connecticut towns whose SWAT team killed an unarmed man during a 2008 drug raid have agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the man’s family. Another lawsuit, filed by the man who owned the home that was raided, is pending.
In a joint statement, officials from Easton, Monroe, Trumbull, Wilton and Darien all maintained their police were not responsible for the death of Gonzalo Guizanthat day. Eaton First Selectman Thomas Herrmann spoke for all five towns.
“While the defendants, police departments and officers from Darien, Easton, Trumbull, Monroe and Wilton maintain they were not responsible for the unfortunate death of Mr. Guizan, the insurers for the defendants, who will bear the full cost of the settlement, believed that it was best to resolve the matter rather than incur further attorneys’ fees, which were anticipated to be significant,” Hermann said. “The defendants concurred, further believing it was important to facilitate the Guizan family being relieved of the combined burden of litigation.”
But the attorney representing the homeowner, Ronald Terebisi, told the Stamford Advocate the settlement was solid evidence the towns knew their SWAT team had gone overboard.
“This is a clear admission of misconduct on their part,” said Gary Mastronardi, who “There is undisputed evidence Guizan and Terebesi were huddled in a corner when police shot,” “This is just the first of two shoes that have dropped,” Mastronardi said, referencing his pending lawsuit for Terebisi’s emotional suffering and damage to his home.
A federal judge last summer had upheld the lawsuits, holding that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to decide if the SWAT team had used excessive and unreasonable force against the pair. That led to pressure on the towns to settle, even though they had filed an appeal.
The raid was organized by former Easton Police Chief John Solomon, who said in pretrial depositions that he had been under pressure to “do something” about Teresbisi, who was considered a blot on the neighborhood. Terebisi had entertained strippers at his home and was once found passed out in his home because of drug use. On one occasion, a boyfriend of one of the strippers shot up Terebisi’s house, heightening neighborhood concerns.
On May 18, 2008, things came to a head. That morning, a stripper called Easton police and said she had seen a small amount of drugs in the house. (She later admitted that she had left the house after having a dispute with Terebisi.)
Early that afternoon, the Southwest Emergency Regional Response Team, dressed in full SWAT garb, took off for Terebisi’s house after Solomon and others warned them that Terebisi was armed and would likely shoot at police. Police videos showed them throwing a flash-bang grenade through a window, smashing down the back door, and yelling out, “Police, warrant!”
One of the officers, Monroe police officer Michael Sweeney, yelled “I’m hit, I’m hit,” and then there was the sound of repeated gunfire. When it was over, Guizan lay dead on the floor with six gunshot wounds and Terebisi, who had been pinned by one of the officers, was handcuffed and dragged out of the house.
SWAT members then searched the house, but found no guns. They did find two crack pipes and a small amount of cocaine. Sweeney, the officer who yelled “I’m hit,” was the one who fired on Guizan and Terebisi. He turned out to have been hit by debris from a third flash-bang explosion. He claimed in testimony that he had struggled with the pair and shot because he felt his life was in danger, but other officers at the scene didn’t back up that account. Guizan was found lifeless in a corner.
Sweeney received the Monroe Police Officer of the Year award for his part in the raid. There is no word on whether that has been rescinded.