Three Salem families who were victims of a May 2015 attempted home invasion will divvy up nearly $1.33 million as part of a settlement from a now-defunct group home accused of housing an individual that was a danger to fellow residents and the community at large.
The Nov. 15 settlement comes 2.5 years after the families woke up in the middle of the night to find a mentally unstable man on their property. The man, Nicholas Benner, told police afterward that he wanted to kill the families.
Three lawsuits were filed on behalf of the families and consolidated against Key Human Services in October 2016.
The lawsuits claimed Key—a residential home that housed men with autism and intellectual disabilities—should never have allowed Benner to live there based on his past violent behavior.
Kara Burgarella, attorney for the families, said the settlement will not be divided up equally among the families. The amount given to each family was not disclosed per the terms of the settlement.
Mediation between attorneys for the residential home and Burgarella began Oct. 2 before retired Judge Michael Riley. After six weeks of going back and forth on settlement offers, Riley announced his $1.325 million settlement decision on Nov. 15. The money was disbursed Monday.
Burgarella said the first offer from Key was about $600,000, while the first offer from the families was about $2 million.
According to Burgarella and the lawsuits, Benner had a history of violence prior to being placed at Key. The lawsuits claim Benner suffered from a number of mental health disorders, including intermittent explosive disorder.
“We took the deposition of Benner’s mother who talked about his violent past,” said Burgarella, a partner with Faulkner & Graves in New London. “She admitted he had attempted murder in the past. Prior to moving to Salem, he lived in a facility in Southbury and had gone to the home of a pregnant woman and confronted her. The woman’s boyfriend ended up coming out with a shotgun.”
Benner was eventually taken to a mental institution within Danbury Hospital and then to Key in Salem, which is located in rural southeastern Connecticut.
Benner left the residential home in May 2015, just one month after he arrived. He went on the properties of three homes located within a quarter of a mile of each other, Burgarella said.
Benner first went to the home of Patricia Anderson and began banging on the porch, Burgarella said. “She thought it was an animal outside and went to the front door and opened it. He was standing right there.”
Anderson slammed the door and called police, Burgarella said. Burgarella said police were aware Benner left the facility and told her to leave the house. She fled to a neighbor’s house and, once at the neighbor’s house, saw Benner “with a huge stick, banging on her car.”
Benner then went to the home of Linda and Stanley Motyl. The Motyls, Burgarella said, also heard banging at their door. Linda Motyl said she called her husband to get his shotgun when she saw Benner at the door with a stick. Benner threatened to destroy the family truck and left before Stanley Motyl was able to get his gun from the garage.
Benner then went to the home of Shaun and Joseph Formica. In that case, Burgarella said, Benner smashed a bathroom window to get into the bedroom.
Burgarella said Shaun Formica, who was pregnant, screamed for her husband who turned on the lights in the house from the bedroom. Joseph Formica then went outside the house to where he though Benner had gone, Burgarella said. Joseph Formica hid behind a slider curtain to confront Benner, but police had arrived and used a Taser on the suspect, the attorney said.
None of the victims were assaulted by Benner, though they feared for their life, Burgarella said.
Benner was charged with four counts of criminal attempt to commit home invasion, a felony, and misdemeanor counts of first-degree criminal mischief, second-degree criminal mischief and interfering with an officer.
The charges were dismissed with the understanding that Benner be placed in a group facility. “The charges were dismissed because he was unable to stand trial or understand what the charges were against him,” Burgarella said.
He ended up at several Connecticut facilities for people with mental disabilities. He’s currently at the Florida Institute for Neurological Rehabilitation in Wauchula.
Keystone Human Services in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was the parent company of Key in Salem. No one at Keystone responded to a request for comment.
Keystone was represented by Scott Ober, a partner with Hassett & Donnelly in Hartford. Ober also didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Burgarella was assisted in the case by partner Dale Faulkner.