West Haven agrees to $3M settlement of police lawsuit in 2010 murder-suicide

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HARTFORD, Connecticut — A Connecticut city where police officers and dispatchers were accused of negligence and ethnic discrimination in their response to what became a murder-suicide in 2010 has agreed to settle a lawsuit by the victim's family for $3 million.

The estate of Turkish immigrant Shengyl Rasim sued the city of West Haven, two officers and two dispatchers in 2011. The estate's lawyer, Joel Faxon, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that a settlement recently was reached and is pending probate court approval. The city did not admit any wrongdoing, he said.

The 25-year-old Rasim was shot to death by her husband, 42-year-old Selami Ozdemir in the early morning hours of Jan. 17, 2010, just hours after he posted bail and got out of jail. He had been arrested the previous evening for a second domestic violence complaint against him in four months. Ozdemir then killed himself. The couple's two young children were home but weren't harmed.

Catherine Nietzel, a lawyer hired by the city, said police and the dispatchers made mistakes but disputed that they were negligent or discriminatory. She said the city agreed to the settlement, which will be paid by an insurer, because of the uncertainty of how a jury might interpret the facts.

The case and several other killings spurred changes in state domestic violence laws, including prohibiting people from posting surety bail with no money down and requiring domestic violence offenders to surrender their firearms to police. Ozdemir got out of jail by posting $25,000 bail with no money down through a bail bondsman.

"This specific case brought focus on just how quickly someone who is arrested on a domestic violence charge can be released on bail," said Karen Jarmoc, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The lawsuit alleged that dispatchers were warned that night that Ozdemir was drunk, armed and on his way back to the couple's home, but didn't alert officers. Faxon said dispatch recordings also showed officers and dispatchers making derogatory comments about Rasim and Ozdemir's ethnicity, but Nietzel denied that claim.

The series of events began at about 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 16, when the couple's 6-year-old son called 911 to report that his father was hitting his mother. Ozdemir was arrested, but quickly posted bail.

Rasim called 911 at about 3:30 the next morning saying her husband was banging on the door. A dispatcher sent an officer to the home, but Ozdemir wasn't there. At about 3:45 a.m., a co-worker of Ozdemir called 911 to report Ozdemir was drunk, angry and heading back to the family's apartment, but a dispatcher didn't alert officers to that call, court records say.

Police received another 911 call from someone in the apartment at 3:52 a.m., when a dispatcher heard an argument, gunshots and a baby crying.

Nietzel said the dispatcher made an "understandable" mistake not telling officers about the 911 call from the co-worker — thinking that it was about the same situation and knowing police already were at the scene. Nietzel said it also was unclear if Ozdemir hid and waited for officers to leave before returning to the apartment and opening fire.

West Haven police found during an internal investigation that officers and dispatchers neglected their duties and engaged in conduct unbecoming department employees.

Named in the lawsuit were Officer Christopher Stratton IV, Sgt. Robert Urrata and dispatchers Robert Guthrie and Frank Meyer. Police said Meyer committed suicide in Vermont in 2013 after being charged in an alleged child sex slave case.

Faxon said the deceased couple's children are now living with relatives in Turkey. He said the settlement is fair.

"The family is hopeful that out of this tragedy comes some change in how domestic violence cases are handled," he said.

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