Dabela family and NAACP are suing Redding Police Chief, seven officers

Gugsa Debela.
Gugsa Dabela.

The family of an attorney found dead of a gunshot wound after an auto accident has filed a lawsuit against the Town of Redding, Police Chief Douglas Fuchs, seven Redding police officers, and ‘Killer, John Doe.”

Gugsa A. Dabela was a Redding attorney who, according to a report from the state’s chief medical examiner, committed suicide in April, 2014. The family disagrees with that ruling.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on April 5, the Dabela family alleges their son, a 35-year old attorney who rented a home in Redding, was murdered by an unknown killer the night of April 5, 2014.

The family, acting together with the Connecticut NAACP, also allege police incompetence led to the mis-classification of Dabela’s death and the escape of his killer. They also allege certain members of the police force violated the civil rights of Dabela in a number of instances.

“This has been an ongoing investigation,” Darnell Crosland, the chairman of the Connecticut NAACP’s Investigation Committee, said Thursday. “I think we’ve hit some walls due to lack of cooperation from the Redding Police and the State’s Attorney Office. That is part-and-parcel to what necessitated the lawsuit as it stands.

“More cooperation and transparency would have been appreciated,” Crossland added.

Redding police officials cannot comment on ongoing litigation, Chief Fuchs said Thursday in request for comment. He has consistently told media outlets he is confident his department investigated Dabela’s death properly.

Crosland says the NAACP has chosen to stand with the Dabela family to find justice in the face of what he says is obfuscation. The NAACP is not a plaintiff in the case, but has aided the Dabela family through its own investigations.

“Although [Chief Fuchs] had his doors open to meeting with us, I don’t believe he was as straight-forward as he could have been. There is a lack of confidence in the family and in our organization that the chief was doing his best to facilitate the information,” Crosland said.

History

The lawsuit originates on the early morning of April 5, 2014, when police reports say Dabela lost control of his vehicle on Umpawaug Road and ran off the road, flipping his car. When officers arrived to the scene of the accident, they found Dabela killed by a single gunshot wound. Officers also found a .40 caliber gun in the car.

The medical examiner later ruled the attorney’s death a suicide. [See Editor’s note below.]

The Dabela family has long asserted their son did not commit suicide, and have asked media outlets and civil rights groups to question whether Redding Police officials did not correctly investigate the incident.

Lawsuit

In the lawsuit, the family’s attorneys write that “within five hours” of discovering Dabela’s body, police had told the man’s landlords the death was a suicide and “issued a press release to describing [sic] the gunshot as ‘self-inflicted,’” prior to contacting Dabela’s family, “and without conducting virtually any investigation as to whether there could have been any other individuals involved…”

In some of the first paragraphs of the lawsuit, lawyers paint an allegedly contentious relationship between Dabela and the Redding Police department in the year leading up to his death, pointing out his pistol permit process took longer than normal and necessitated the intervention of state officials after Chief Fuchs, allegedly, questioned “Mr. Dabela’s sense of ‘extreme urgency’ to obtain a concealed carry permit.”

They go on to allege Redding Police did a poor job of investigating the accident, stating officers did not find a bullet in Dabela’s vehicle or explore the possibility of another vehicle being involved in the crash.

In addition, lawyers point to the fact that a bullet found by at the scene of the crash (four days after the crime) did not contain Dabela’s DNA as proof the department should have investigated the death more thoroughly.

They also make a vague assertion that police deleted the contact information of cell phone number that had texted Dabela the night of the crash.

Politics in town

The lawsuit also explains that in the year leading up to his death, Dabela had begun attending town meetings and getting involved in Redding politics.

It also notes he would frequent The Little Pub and “other local meeting spots” to discuss property tax grievances with patrons in the hope of developing new clients, and denied charges set-forth in a Hello Redding Blog expose which is longer published on the site.

[Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated as fact Redding Police officers at the scene declared the accident a suicide. This was an allegation made by the Debala family in the lawsuit, and not consistent with police reports.]

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