HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — When Connecticut state trooper Victor Diaz killed his ex-girlfriend and himself in 2005, he used his personal handgun that had been seized by state police after he was charged with drunken driving but was returned to his brother four months before the killings. Diaz was living with his brother at the time.
Now, more than eight years later, a trial has begun to determine whether state police are liable for the death of Diaz’s ex-girlfriend, Newington police officer Ciara McDermott.
McDermott’s family alleges in a lawsuit that state police never should have returned the gun to Diaz’s brother because they knew or should have known that Diaz might become violent. State officials deny the allegations.
Judge Trial Referee Joseph Shortall began hearing evidence in the case this past week in Hartford Superior Court. There is no jury. Attorneys in the case expect testimony on whether state police were liable to end Wednesday.
If the judge rules in favor of McDermott’s family, the trial would continue to determine what damages should be awarded. If he rules in favor of the state, the trial would end.
It’s not clear how much money McDermott’s family is seeking, though they requested $5 million when they asked the state claims commissioner for permission to sue the state. The family’s lawyer, Joseph Hourihan, didn’t return messages seeking comment.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Beizer, who is representing the state, said the lawsuit’s allegations aren’t true.
‘‘It’s a tragic case, but it’s just wrong to look to the state of Connecticut for anything,’’ he said. ‘‘I feel bad for the family, but the state didn’t do anything wrong.’’
Diaz, 37, shot McDermott, 30, and himself to death with his .40-caliber handgun at her West Hartford home on Nov. 21, 2005. He was supposed to surrender that same day to West Hartford police on allegations that he illegally used a police database to obtain information on McDermott’s new boyfriend, who was a West Hartford police officer, and that he made harassing phone calls to McDermott.
State police had taken possession of the handgun eight months earlier after Diaz was arrested while off duty in Cromwell on charges of drunken driving and resisting arrest. But state police said there was no reason for them to keep the gun and they returned it to Diaz’s brother, Edwin Diaz, in July, after the drunken driving case was resolved and a state police internal affairs investigation was finished.
Victor Diaz was suspended from his trooper job for 60 days effective in late October 2005.
Authorities said Victor Diaz didn’t have a permit for the handgun, but he wasn’t prohibited from possessing it in his home. Edwin Diaz told police he secured the handgun in a lockbox and hid the key because of his children, but his brother somehow got the weapon.
McDermott’s family alleges that state police should have seized the gun again after learning West Hartford police were investigating Victor Diaz for making harassing phone calls to McDermott.
State police officials who talked with Diaz earlier in November 2005 said there were no indications he would become violent or was suicidal.
McDermott’s family asked the state claims commissioner for permission to sue the state over her death, but that request was denied in January 2010. The family appealed to the state legislature, which voted to allow the lawsuit in 2011.