Judge declines to throw out case against town

Judge rules against New Milford: Stabbing victim claims police were negligent

NEW MILFORD -- A state Superior Court judge in Litchfield has ruled against the town of New Milford's attempt to have a suit filed by stabbing victim Catherine Fergus thrown out.

Fergus, the mother of three who police said was stabbed by her estranged husband outside her home in November 2009, is suing the town, claiming police were negligent in not preventing the attack.

Neil Fergus, 42, is jailed on $1 million bond and faces multiple charges. He is scheduled to appear in state Superior Court in Litchfield on Friday, to either accept a state plea deal or go to jury trial.

"The judge (in the civil case) ruled that the officers do not have the discretion to be incompetent," said Joel Faxon, Catherine Fergus' attorney. "This is a chronic problem in New Milford. I handled the Frank Reid case and a friend of mine defended Scribner."

Faxon referred to the 2000 first-degree manslaughter conviction of New Milford Police Officer Scott Smith in the shooting of Franklyn Reid. He further referred to the 1999 case against Officer William Scribner in the death of 17-year-old Angela D'Aquila resulting from a motor vehicle accident. Scribner received a four-month suspended jail term in the incident.

"This (Fergus) case was handled in such a ridiculous fashion that the judge is not going to throw it out," Faxon said. "I expect to go to trial by 2012, either in the middle or at the end of the year."

Mayor Pat Murphy said Faxon's comments were "just rhetoric."

"The court did not make a finding that the allegations are true," Murphy said, "rather, it simply ruled that the unproven allegations are barely sufficient to survive dismissal.

"The New Milford Police Department is comprised of highly trained, dedicated and capable officers; I stand with them," Murphy said.

"We respectfully disagree with the ruling and expect to be fully vindicated in court," James Talberg, the attorney representing the town, said about Judge John Pickard's Aug. 8 ruling.

Tallberg declined to comment further.

Tallberg's motion for dismissal was based on the grounds that Catherine Fergus' claim "is barred by governmental immunity." He said the officers were "immune from liability for negligence arising out of their discretionary act" of alerting Neil Fergus to his pending arrest.

Pickard ruled that "an exception to governmental immunity" existed, as Catherine Fergus was "an identifiable person likely to be subjected to imminent harm" by the officers' failure to arrest Neil Fergus.

Catherine Fergus said police should have immediately arrested her estranged husband, Neil Fergus, after he violated a protective order by placing a series of threatening phone calls to her, rather than "tipping him off to his pending arrest," according to the lawsuit.

Two hours after a police officer contacted Neil Fergus, he went to the Courtland Drive home he once shared with his wife, found her in her car with two of the children, and stabbed her several times in the back and arm, according to the lawsuit.

She managed to escape and ran into the house, but Neil Fergus forced his way inside and threw his 71-year-old mother-in-law to the ground before police arrived and arrested him, police said.

Contact Susan Tuz at stuz@newstimes.com or 860-355-7322