HARTFORD - An FBI agent and a local police officer were justified in the fatal shooting of a man who shot at them during a federal-local task force operation in Hartford in January, a prosecutor concluded Monday.
FBI Special Agent Frederick Reeder and New Britain Detective Christopher Kiely fired in self-defense at Benicio Vasquez, who fired one shot at them but missed while trying to flee on foot after crashing into police vehicles and nearly running over an officer, New Haven State's Attorney Patrick Griffin said in his report.
Griffin noted that none of the officers on the task force was wearing a body camera, and he recommended task force members wear them in all future operations.
Reeder fired seven times and Kiely two times, Griffin said. Vasquez, 34, who had survived being wounded in two previous, unrelated shootings, was shot five times and later pronounced dead at a hospital, according to the report. Autopsy results showed he had alcohol and THC from marijuana in his system.
“When they made the split-second decision to use deadly force, ... Reeder and ... Kiely did so with the subjective belief that, if they did not, Vasquez would kill or injure them or the other members of the arrest team following closely behind them,” Griffin wrote. “The officers were left with no choice but to discharge their weapons in self-defense.”
It is the second time Kiely has been cleared in a fatal shooting. He was one of five officers whom another prosecutor ruled justified in a 2017 police shooting in New Britain that killed 20-year-old Zoe Dowdell, a rapper known as “Gangstalicious.”
Officials said officers were trying to pull over a car driven by Dowdell and opened fire when it accelerated toward them. Dowdell died and two teenagers in the car were injured. Dowdell’s family disputes that the shooting was justified.
During an interview with investigators of the police shooting of Vasquez, his mother, Sonia Thomas, was upset and expressed disappointment at her son's behavior, saying “she knew it would only be a matter of time before something like this would occur," Griffin's report says.
“He liked guns. He didn't like to fight,” Thomas told authorities. “My son was selling drugs, I think weed and fentanyl. But that's not why he had a gun. He just liked guns.”
On the morning of the shooting, the task force went to a North End neighborhood to arrest another man who had a history of illegally possessing firearms and was wanted for violating parole.
That man was taken into custody and Vasquez took off, getting into an SUV that then struck a police vehicle and nearly hit an officer, Griffin said. Vasquez then crashed head-on into a vehicle driven by another FBI agent.
Vasquez fled on foot after another police vehicle struck the SUV in an attempt to stop it, leading to the exchange of gunfire.