Fairfield, cop sued in teen’s death after high speed pursuit
Updated 12:36 am, Saturday, July 16, 2016
FAIRFIELD — A dead teenager’s estate is suing the town and one of its police officers, who was involved in a similar fatal pursuit when he was with another police department.
The lawsuit claimed Renaldi pursued Leao in violation of state and local pursuit policies, and that the town should have been aware that Renaldi had been involved in a similar incident when he was a member of the Seymour Police Department.
Town Attorney Stanton Lesser declined to comment on the suit.
According to the lawsuit filed in state Superior Court in Bridgeport, Leao was driving a Yamaha motorcycle around midnight on Aug. 3, 2014, while Renaldi was in a parking lot on Kings Highway East. “Defendant Renaldi claims to have heard a loud motorcycle approaching the intersection of Kings Highway East and Jennings Road, near where he was parked,” according to the suit, which said Leao was on his way home to Bridgeport, and was not speeding or driving erratically.
At that point, according to court papers, Renaldi initiated a pursuit, activating his lights and siren, because he said he believed there was no registration plate on the bike. The suit said the Yamaha was properly registered and a valid plate was affixed to the rear of the bike.
A failure to have a visible plate, the suit stated, would only be an infraction and was not a valid reason to conduct a high-speed pursuit.
The suit further claimed Renaldi did not contact dispatchers or his supervisors, and continued the chase at a high speed into Bridgeport, again failing to notify supervisors.
When he got near, or was at the town line, the suit stated, Renaldi turned off his lights and siren, but continued the pursuit. At that point, Leao “violently collided” with a utility pole, and suffered an open fracture to his femur, a dislocated and fractured pelvis, a lacerated spleen, and trauma to his heart, lungs, abdomen, colon, head and face, the lawsuit said. He died at St. Vincent’s Medical Center after undergoing surgery.
The suit quoted Renaldi’s police report, which said the motorcycle appeared to be traveling at a normal rate of speed, but he was able to get close enough to the Yamaha to conclude there was no registration plate.
The lawsuit said at one point, “Renaldi then deactivated his lights and began to notify dispatch that a motorcycle had ‘taken off on him.’ Renaldi is not sure if he completed his transmission to dispatch (there is no record of such transmission), but that as he was making the transmission, he saw a ‘large cloud of debris in the distance and the red taillight of the motorcycle airborne.’ ”
Renaldi said he ran to see if Leao was injured and went to get his medical bag and defibrillator, but before getting back to Leao, directed a car to pull over because he was not sure if the occupants had seen the accident, the suit said.
Surveillance video from a nearby condominium complex showed Renaldi’s cruiser appearing within two to three seconds after the crash, with the emergency lights off, the suit said.
Prior to 2014, that lawsuit said, Renaldi had been involved in another police pursuit, in 2012, that ended with a fatal accident.
At the time, Renaldi worked for the Seymour Police Department. On March 9, 2012, around 11:48 p.m., Brandon Giordano, 15, was a passenger in a Mustang that had multicolored LED lights around the bottom of the car.
Because of those lights, the suit said, Renaldi initiated a pursuit that ended in an accident that killed Giordano and left the driver with serious injuries. “Prior to initiating the pursuit of the Ramirez vehicle, he was ‘unable to obtain a registration plate’ (even though it in fact had a valid and visible license plate,”) the suit said. The pursuit left Seymour and went into Oxford, where the headlights of the Mustang were allegedly turned off, and Renaldi claimed to have terminated the pursuit, the suit said.
As Renaldi continued on Route 67, he slowed for an oncoming car and discovered it was a marked State Police cruiser operated by the resident state trooper, the suit said. According to the suit, the trooper had not been notified of the pursuit, and Renaldi reportedly said he was trying to catch up to the Mustang and sped off. He found the car — a convertible with its top down — lying on its roof with the occupants trapped underneath. Giordano died at the scene, and his mother filed a $15 million suit against the town of Seymour and Renaldi.
According to the suit, the state police report indicated the Mustang had a valid license plate. The suit remains open.
In 2013, Renaldi was hired by the Fairfield Police Department, and the suit stated he disclosed the Oxford incident prior to his hiring. An investigation by the Seymour department cleared him of any wrongdoing.