The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 6-1 Wednesday in favor of Newtown police in a case that tested the definition of “arrest” following the 2010 shooting of a Danbury Hospital nurse.
The state’s high court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the police department’s arrest policy applied solely in a criminal context, and the town was not liable for the actions of a mentally unstable man who walked into police headquarters asking to be taken to the hospital. Stanley Lupienski, who was 85 at the time, told police he was hearing voices and was short of breath. He was rushed to the hospital, where he later pulled a gun from underneath his hospital gown and shot nurse Andrew Hull.
Hull had stepped in front of Lupienski to prevent him from shooting others, police said.
The crux of the case was whether police should have searched Lupienski before taking him to the hospital, and what constitutes an arrest. The high court upheld a summary judgment ruling that police had no duty to search Lupienski because he was never arrested under the department’s arrest policy or Connecticut General Statute 17a-503(a).
The majority opinion, written by Justice Carmen Espinosa, concluded an arrest only applies in a criminal context, and the term “custody” did not denote criminal custody under the arrest policy.
The plaintiffs eventually moved to amend the complaint to claim the police had a duty to search Lupienski pursuant to the department’s prisoner transportation policy. The high court also struck that down.
“The text of the transportation policy having indicated its purview was criminal and did not implicate mental health custody,” Espinosa wrote. “Mr. Lupienski was not in custody or arrested within the meaning of that policy and it was therefore inapplicable.”
In his dissent, Justice Dennis Eveleigh said police had a duty to search Lupienski.
“Under the policy … the duty of an officer to search a person who had been taken into custody was not left to the judgment or discretion of the officer,” Eveleigh wrote. “The defendant admitted these statements and then added the policy applied when someone was arrested.
“In my view, it is clear that the policy defines an arrest to be whenever someone is taken into custody,” Eveleigh added.
Hull, a former Marine, was shot in the sternum, neck and left hand. Today, he works in the hospital in a different capacity, according to his attorney, David Rosen.
“At this point we are considering whether to request reconsideration, but in any case the most important fact about this case for me is that it has been an enormous privilege to represent a true hero,” said Rosen, of David Rosen & Associates in New Haven.
Aaron Bayer, one of two attorneys for Newtown, called the ruling a prudent decision.
“This is a case in which the police department was properly protected by governmental immunity because there was no mandatory requirement to conduct a search,” said Bayer, of Wiggin & Dana. “It would have been troubling to find that a mentally ill person in need of psychiatric help would have been treated like a criminal and an arrested person.”
Lupienski was charged with first-degree assault, first-degree reckless endangerment, illegal discharge of a firearm and carrying a pistol without a permit. He died in October 2010 after suffering a stroke.
Assisting Bayer was Tadgh Dooley, also of Wiggin & Dana.