By Susan Tuz Staff Writer

Suit vs. town stands in Fergus case

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

Ms. 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 Friday, Aug. 19 to appear in Litchfield Superior Court and either accept a plea deal from the state or go to jury trial.

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

Mr. Faxon referred to the 2000 first-degree manslaughter conviction of New Milford 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.

Officer 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," Mr. Faxon continued. "I expect to go to trial by 2012, either in the middle or at the end of the year."

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

"In fact, the court did not make a finding that the allegations are true," Mayor 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," the mayor continued.

The attorney representing the town, James Tallberg, commented on Judge John Pickard's Aug. 8 ruling on the suit, saying "We respectfully disagree with the ruling and expect to be fully vindicated in court."

Mr. Tallberg declined to comment further due to pending litigation.

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

The judge ruled "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.