Report: Police officer justified in shooting of New Milford man
NEW MILFORD — A New Milford police officer was justified when he fatally shot a man during a brief standoff in August 2017, according to a new report by State’s Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky.
Kostatinos Sfaelos, 62, was shot and killed by Officer Christopher Hayes after officers confronted Sfaelos outside his Outlook Road home on Aug. 28, 2017.
Police found Sfaelos in a wooded area that afternoon armed with a shotgun — later found to be unloaded — that he raised toward officers who had ordered him to drop the weapon.
Hayes fired a single shot from his rifle, striking Sfaelos in the chest and killing him.
Despite the “truly sad circumstances” for the Sfaelos family, Hayes’ decision to fire was justified, Sedensky concluded in the report released last week.
“It was objectively reasonable for Officer Hayes to assume the gun was loaded and capable of firing projectiles that could kill him or those around him,” the report concluded. “It should be noted that Officer Hayes fired only one shot, that which he reasonably believed to be necessary to stop Mr. Sfaelos from killing or injuring others or Officer Hayes.
“It is the reasonable belief of the officer at the time he is called to act. The fact that the gun was unloaded is not part of the analysis.”
The incident began shortly before 5 p.m. that day when New Milford Police received several 911 calls from Sfaelos’ wife and family members that he had a gun and was threatening to kill himself.
Sfaelos’ wife had just returned home from an 11-day trip out of town to find her husband, who went by Gus, sitting in the living room with a 20-gauge pump shotgun she had used hunting years earlier, she told investigators.
Sfaelos explained he had lost his long-time job at Costco while his wife was away and had attempted to take about 20 pills of Percocet but had thrown them up. He had cut his own wrists.
When officers arrived, Sfaelos was in a wooded area and officers were told he had “racked” a round into the shotgun, leading officers to believe it was loaded, according to the investigation.
Four officers confronted Sfaelos in the woods and ordered him to stop moving and drop the shotgun, but he never verbally replied, Hayes told investigators.
“I immediately yelled for Gus to drop the weapon and could hear Officer (Thomas) Kenney repeating commands such as, ‘Gus, drop your weapon,’ and ‘We don’t want to hurt you Gus, just drop the weapon.’”
Then Sfaelos appeared to swing the shotgun in Hayes’ direction, so Hayes fired one single shot, investigators concluded. Officers tried to provide first aid, but Sfaelos was dead.
Investigators found the gun unloaded and Sfaelos had three 12-gauge shotgun shells in his pocket.
The next day the Office of the Medical Examiner concluded Sfaelos’ death was a suicide by police shooting. A toxicology report found Sfaelos had oxycodone in his system and the autopsy found 21 superficial cuts to his wrists.
Sfaelos owned the home on Outlook Road, about a mile east of the town green, since 1997, according to property records.
New Milford Police Chief Spencer Cerruto said Hayes was on administrative duty since the incident but expects him to return to full duty upon full review of the report, which he said was transparent and thorough.
“There’s no question that this is a tragic incident for all involved,” he said. “My sympathies go out to the family and I also recognize that the officer’s life has been significantly impacted by this incident.”
Hayes graduated from Ridgefield High School in 2002. Before becoming a New Milford officer, he worked at his family’s dry-cleaning business in Ridgefield.
New Milford Mayor Pete Bass welcomed the news.
“I’m glad that the due process was completed,” he said. “We have to follow the proper process and procedure.”
Staff writers Katrina Koerting and Jim Shay contributed to this report.