Attorneys representing Mike Alexander-Garcia held a press conference at West Hartford Town Hall on Monday.
By John Fitts
Attorneys representing the family of a 34-year-old man fatally shot by a West Hartford police officer last week are calling the death an unnecessary and avoidable tragedy.
“Mike Alexander-Garcia should be alive today. Mike was shot, not once, not twice but three times at point-blank range. He was killed by a West Hartford police officer on Tuesday, Aug. 8 and the use of deadly force in this situation was unnecessary, excessive and irresponsible,” attorney Kenneth J. Krayeske, of BBB Attorneys & Counselors, said during a press conference at West Hartford Town Hall on Monday, Aug. 14.
At the press conference, Krayeske questioned multiple aspects of the officer’s actions, including getting into the vehicle, and says the officer unnecessarily escalated the situation. Attorneys also say they believe the officer violated department policy.
“Mike is terrified as you heard on the video; he is begging for his life,” Krayeske said. “The audio appears to confirm that there was four shots fired, not three, in contradiction to what the OIG says. There were two before the vehicle crashed and two after the vehicle crashed. In the video, the officer never issues a clear command to Mike telling him how he can avoid death. The officer just says ‘I’m going to shoot.’ The video footage of the body cam worn by Ofc. Teeter is 60 seconds long. At 32 seconds Mike pleads for his life, saying please sir, please no. At 35 seconds Mike states directly ‘please don’t kill me.’ Mike pleaded for his life saying please at least 15 times before the officer shot him. How was he supposed to prevent being shot if the officer didn’t tell him what to do?”
The circumstances that led to Alexander-Garcia’s death started when West Hartford officers, on the afternoon of Aug. 8, spotted and attempted to stop a blue Hyundai Elantra that had been reported as stolen four days earlier, according to a preliminary report by the state Office of the Inspector General that was accompanied by multiple videos, including the officers’ body camera video, dashcam video from several cruisers, and surveillance video from Town Fair Tire.
The Hyundai, which had been spotted near Westfarms, was traveling east on New Britain Avenue, and another officer used stop sticks to attempt to disable the vehicle near South Street, but the driver did not stop until after colliding with a silver BMW and then a blue Honda Pilot on New Britain Avenue, according to the report.
The two occupants of the Hyundai – identified by the Office of Inspector General’s Office as Lyle Solsbury, 47, and Alexander-Garcia, exited the vehicle and fled, officials said. West Hartford officers quickly apprehended Solsbury, who is a convicted felon with more than 30 arrests and charges pending in courts throughout Connecticut.
Alexander-Garcia eventually made his way to Town Fair Tire at 980 New Britain Ave., attempting to carjack two vehicles along the way, according to that preliminary report.
At Town Fair, Alexander-Garcia entered a Toyota RAV4 that was being worked on in one of the garage bays. An employee of the business tried to stop Alexander-Garcia and K-9 Officer Andrew Teeter entered the garage bay roughly 10 seconds after Alexander-Garcia got into the RAV4, surveillance video shows.
Following the attempts to of an employee to stop Alexander-Garcia, video shows Teeter launching his K-9 into the vehicle before entering it himself.
Ofc. Teeter, and the K-9 continued to struggle with Alexander-Garcia, who then backed out of the bay, and drove out of the Town Fair Tire parking lot, in the process striking two vehicles, one of which was the West Hartford Police Department K-9 vehicle.
“As Alexander-Garcia continued to drive, Officer Teeter discharged his weapon multiple times striking Alexander-Garcia in the torso,” the Office of Inspector General’s press release states. “The Toyota crashed into a utility pole across the street from Town Fair Tire near the intersection of New Britain Avenue and Shield Street.”
Police and West Hartford Fire Department paramedics provided CPR to Alexander-Garcia and he was transported to Hartford Hospital but was pronounced dead at 5:53 p.m. West Hartford Police Chief Vernon L. Riddick said last week.
At the press conference Alexander-Garcia’s sister, Sheely Alexander-Garcia, spoke to her brother’s loving personality and artistic talents. She also acknowledged her brother wasn’t perfect, noting his struggles with addiction.
“He struggled with substance abuse and that was something that was difficult for our family,” she said. “The system has failed him and he could just never break the cycle but he wasn’t a violent person. … There’s no excuse his actions I’m not standing here defending his actions but he wasn’t a bad person. We want justice; we want the truth about what happened to Mike.”
Krayeske also noted the deceased’s struggle with substance abuse disorder and criminal record – calling his record “mostly non-violent” but also acknowledging two robbery convictions.
He also acknowledged Alexander-Garcia had been at a halfway house in Hartford and alleged the system failed to provide necessary help for someone who was trying hard to beat his demons.
“He wasn’t getting the support he needed to help overcome addiction. If we are going to treat the public health crisis of opiate addiction as a criminal crisis we need to provide the people who are suffering from opiate addiction and drug addiction with the resources that they need when they are in the criminal justice system to survive the torture of the criminal justice system.
Krayeske, who noted that it is premature to know whether a lawsuit will be filed, was also critical of the reaction of town officials to the incident.
Last week, upon release of the OIG’s preliminary report, Riddick issued the following statement:
“The West Hartford Police Department greatly appreciates and respects the obligation of the Inspector General’s Office to release this video footage to the public. This was a dangerous situation involving multiple attempted car jackings and I encourage the public and media to review all of the details of what the Inspector General’s Office has released. The West Hartford Police Department believes strongly in transparency, and in all facts being gathered and impartially evaluated. To that end, state law clearly places the Inspector General’s office as the lead investigative entity of this incident, and we will continue to fully cooperate with them as they conduct their work.”
Krayeske accused the chief of skewing the narrative.
“The statement by Chief Riddick regarding the attempted multiple car jackings feels to us like an attempt to skew the news in the police department’s direction and to raise the threat level posed by Mike, our client’s son,” said Krayeske, who also said little is yet known about the alleged carjackings. “They want to change how this is seen in the court of public opinion and we know behind closed doors people in the West Hartford Police Department are questioning whether or not this was a good shooting and in public they’re going to come out here and say this was completely justified.”
He also said a statement by Mayor Shari Cantor did not “offer any sympathy to the family.”
Riddick and Cantor did not immediately respond to a request for comment of the allegations that surfaced at the press conference. Cantor’s statement provided on Monday prior to the press conference can be viewed here.
Attorneys for the family of Alexander-Garcia did, however, say the family is cooperating fully with the Officer of the Inspector General and Krayeske said the team is performing its own investigation with the help of two “experts” on police tactics and use of force but declined to name the individuals, stating it would compromise their independence.
“Mike Alexander-Garcia did not deserve to die. He was working hard to improve his life and trying to overcome challenges of substance abuse disorder. We will now never know what this man could have accomplished in his life,” Krayeske said.
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