A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the family of late Newington police officer Ciara McDermott against state police, ruling that her 2005 slaying by her former boyfriend, suspended trooper Victor Diaz, "was not foreseeable" by his superior officers.
"Because the harm caused by the criminal act of Mr. Diaz was not reasonably foreseeable to the state police, it was not within the scope of the risk created by its allowing Mr. Diaz to obtain and retain possession of the Glock pistol with which he killed Ms. McDermott," State Trial Referee Joseph M. Shortall wrote in a 28-page decision.
Peter McDermott, Ciara's father, had filed a lawsuit against the state police alleging that they should have realized Diaz had serious alcohol problems and violent tendencies. The suit argued state police should not have returned Diaz's Glock pistol to his brother with whom he lived, Edwin Diaz, following an internal affairs investigation into his drunken driving arrest in Cromwell six months earlier.
Victor Diaz used that gun to kill McDermott on Nov. 21, 2005, waiting at her West Hartford home for her to come home from working the day shift in Newington. He killed himself in her bedroom after shooting her.
Diaz was supposed to turn himself in to West Hartford police that same day on computer theft charges. State police said he had used the state police database to have someone look up the license plate of a Jeep that he saw in McDermott's driveway a few weeks before the shooting. The Jeep belonged to a West Hartford police officer that she was dating.
Ciara McDermott had contacted West Hartford police after receiving a series of degrading phone calls made between Nov. 2 and Nov. 6 from Diaz. McDermott told West Hartford police she did not think that Diaz would get violent and she did not want to press criminal charges against him.
West Hartford police interviewed Diaz on Nov. 7 and he acknowledged making the phone calls and having the license information on the officer's Jeep illegally searched, a crime that Diaz knew would have led to his dismissal as a trooper.
State police were concerned enough about Diaz that they had the commanding officer of Troop H in Hartford, where Diaz had been assigned, drive out to Windsor to do a wellness check on him.
The lieutenant reported that Diaz seemed fine, although concerned about losing his job because of the phone calls. Diaz told his commanding officer he had no intention of harming himself and mentioned his five-year-old daughter he was caring for at that time.
The lawsuit claims that state police should have taken the Glock pistol from the house when they went out to visit Diaz that day and didn't take the harassing phone calls seriously enough as a possible threat against Ciara McDermott.
The Glock, which was Diaz's private weapon, had been confiscated during the internal affairs investigation of the July drunken driving arrest. It had been turned over to Edwin Diaz when Victor Diaz was suspended. Edwin Diaz testified he kept the gun in a locked box in the basement that somehow Victor Diaz discovered and opened the day of the murder.
Shortall ruled neither the state police who visited Diaz nor West Hartford detectives who interviewed him several times and eventually obtained an arrest warrant could have foreseen the subsequent violence. Shortall said local police, if they felt there was an imminent threat to McDermott, could have arrested Diaz when they first got the complaint and then again when they got the arrest warrant on Nov. 18 -- three days before the murder.
Instead they made arrangements with Diaz's attorney for him to turn himself in after the weekend.
"It will seem harsh to some that the legal responsibility of the state for Ms. McDermott's death should turn on what may seem like abstract concepts such as "foresee ability" and the "scope of risk," Shortall wrote. "Those principles, however, are part of the law in order to protect private parties as well as municipal and state government from being held responsible for the consequences of their actions which in retrospect seem predictable but, in fact, were not."
Shortall held a three-day trial in which state police administrators, West Hartford police detectives and Edwin Diaz testified. The state Claims Commissioner had originally rejected McDermott's claim to file a lawsuit against the state.
The McDermott family then had to appeal to the legislature for permission to sue. Lawmakers passed a special act in 2011 allowing the lawsuit to go forward.
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