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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

[CT] Officer Morelli will be buried with full departmental honors

...He had some things in his life which were very emotional and heart wrenching...

...court records showed that Officer Morelli was locked in an international battle with his ex-wife... [see comments]

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[CT] Manhunt for Officer Morelli's killer has quieted into sadness & the unspoken


Findings Point to Suicide in Norwalk Officer's Death

New York Times
By ALISON LEIGH COWAN
March 26, 2008
[Excerpts] Four days after a Norwalk police officer on patrol was found fatally shot in a church parking lot, officials said Tuesday that he had probably committed suicide, and that an AK-47 rifle was found at the scene along with his service pistol. The officer, Matthew Morelli, 38, a former marine, was found Friday morning, shortly after midnight, prompting a major manhunt and a forensic investigation that the Norwalk police chief, Harry W. Rilling, described on Tuesday as the "best the State of Connecticut has to offer." Though investigators are continuing to look for evidence of foul play, Chief Rilling said, "the general consensus is there is a high degree of probability that the fatal wound suffered by Officer Morelli was self-inflicted." On Friday, the police said that neighbors reported hearing a rapid succession of gunshots shortly after Officer Morelli signaled over his radio that he was getting out of his squad car to investigate suspicious activity in the secluded lot. Backup officers arrived at the lot within minutes, and said that Officer Morelli was already dead. On Tuesday, the police refused to divulge much else about the scene, the weapon that dealt the fatal shot or the reasoning behind their conclusions. They said that so long as they could not rule out foul play, Officer Morelli would be buried with full departmental honors on Thursday, along with the honor guard they said he was entitled to as a "highly decorated" former marine. "He deserves no less," said Richard A. Moccia, the mayor of Norwalk, a Fairfield County city of 85,000... Chief Rilling told reporters he had shared the forensic findings indicating suicide with Officer Morelli's parents, brothers and girlfriend earlier on Tuesday. Officer Morelli is also survived by a 6-year-old daughter who lives with his ex-wife in Australia. Fellow officers said the separation from his daughter was one of the problems Officer Morelli had faced. "He had some things in his life which were very emotional and heart wrenching," said Officer William Curwen, the president of Norwalk's police union. Without elaborating, Chief Rilling said "there were some things that happened prior" to the shooting that led his investigators to believe suicide was a possibility. Another clue, he said, was an AK-47 rifle that was found at the scene. Asked whether the survivors' benefits available to officers killed in the line of duty might have been a motivation for making a suicide look like a homicide, Chief Rilling said that he "did not want to speculate." Officers who die in the line of duty are entitled to far more in local, state and federal benefits, and they can also qualify for private sources of money. Mayor Moccia said that it was "inappropriate at this time" to discuss survivors' benefits and that "whatever the family is entitled to they will receive." [Full article here]

3 comments:

  1. Matt was a USMC intel officer in SW ASIA. His suicide must be directly related to that rifle. That sort of rifle is being used in Iraq and Afghanistan by insurgents. USA bought them for them by accident. What would drive a person to kill themselves with a Russian made weapon used by the enemy? Something they were not very proud of I'd guess.

    How many Norwalk citizens were put at risk by the preceding volley of rounds discharged into the air to make it look good for investigators? Survivor benefits? Burial with honor? Typical Connecticut loophole thinking - ala Gov. Rowland?

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  2. 2:24

    Look what they did for Bruce McKay up in NH and that guy was a total pig. They covered up for him like there's no tomorrow but I got some documents coming out pursuant to a Right-to-Know case I just won that will shed a bit more light on the situation.

    But I'm trippin' out on this one in CT... wow. Haven't read the full story but I'm sure I know exactly where it happened too:

    I lived in Norwalk and my sister has been there for 20 years now. In fact, I lived at her house when I was under a bullshit indictment from when I was NAACP Legal Chair in NH so now I come full circle and successfully sue NH government under Right-to-Know.

    Only in America.

    ReplyDelete
  3. ...But court records showed that Officer Morelli was locked in an international battle with his ex-wife, Tamra Bartholomaeus, over their daughter, Sydney Anne, who is 6...



    Suicide Bigger Threat for Police Than Criminals
    By ALISON LEIGH COWAN
    April 8, 2008

    NORWALK, Conn. — When Matthew Morelli, a 38-year-old police officer, was found slumped in a secluded parking lot with an AK-47 rifle on March 21, state and local authorities spent two days looking for a suspect, with helicopters and police dogs scouring the neighborhood, where witnesses reported hearing multiple shots. The culprit turned out to be a stealthy if surprisingly familiar cop killer: suicide.

    “We’re all numb,” said William Curwen, the president of Norwalk’s police union, speaking for many at Officer Morelli’s wake almost a week later.

    Within one recent week, a 35-year-old New York State trooper fatally shot himself with his service pistol after learning that he might be disciplined for minor misconduct, and a New York City police officer was found dead in her home in Upper Manhattan, propped up in bed with the Glock pistol that delivered the fatal shot in one hand, a beer can in the other. And the Los Angeles Police Department, which has counted one or two suicides annually in recent years, presented a report last month calling for online prevention programs for all employees, additional training for supervisors, and psychologists at roll calls to discuss the topic with officers.

    While line-of-duty deaths grab the public’s attention, experts say that law enforcement officers more often — perhaps two or three times more often — die by their own hands. Comparing suicide rates within law enforcement with those in the general population is difficult because statistics are kept by different agencies and it is hard to account for demographics. Also, the general population does not undergo the extensive psychological and physical screening most officers undergo when they are hired, making comparisons questionable. But many who have studied the phenomenon agree that the stress of the job and easy access to weapons can contribute to a higher risk for suicide.

    “We’re losing a police officer every 19 or 20 hours of self-inflicted wounds,” said Robert E. Douglas Jr., a former Baltimore police officer and chaplain who runs the National Police Suicide Foundation in Maryland. “It is a big wow. It’s so sad because what you see in Connecticut goes on all the time.”

    Mr. Douglas estimates that 400 to 450 officers kill themselves each year, compared with 150 to 200 who die in the line of duty. In Norwalk, at least five officers besides Officer Morelli have committed suicide since 1974; four officers have been killed in the line of duty since the department was established in 1913, the most recent ones in 1982 and 1971.

    Some law enforcement agencies have beefed up prevention programs after seeing troubling spikes in suicides within their ranks. The California Highway Patrol expanded peer counseling and suicide-related training after losing 10 of its roughly 7,900 officers to suicide in 2005 and 2006; last year, said Capt. Susan Coutts of the employee assistance unit, “we had one.” The Maryland State Police saw a cluster of suicides, including two from the same barracks, in the 1990s, and initiated programs to identify officers at high risk, along with mandatory psychological consultations and firearms reorientation for officers involved in fatal shootings.

    “I know we didn’t have a suicide for years after that,” said David B. Mitchell, who was Maryland’s State Police superintendent from 1995 to 2003 and now is Delaware’s secretary of safety and homeland security,

    But some law enforcement leaders would rather not acknowledge the problem, given the emotional and financial implications that can hang in the balance. Officers who fall in the line of duty have their names etched on a prominent wall at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington and posted on Internet sites. Their funerals are better attended, and their survivors are typically eligible for some $300,000 from the federal government alone, as well as college scholarships.

    “When you’re killed in the line of duty, you get a huge send-off,” said Mr. Mitchell, who also served as police chief in Prince George’s County, Md. “It’s a hero’s send-off, and that doesn’t happen if you kill yourself. There’s a stigma attached to it.”

    Mr. Mitchell said that he has “seen a number of staged murders that were actually suicides,” similar to the scene where Officer Morelli was found.

    Suzie Sawyer, a co-founder of Concerns of Police Survivors, a nonprofit group that represents families of officers who die in the line of duty, said it can be difficult even to count suicides because “police agencies will try to say it’s an accidental discharge, because it’s pretty hard to admit that your good buddy is trying to end his life.”

    More than 32,000 Americans each year take their lives, or about 11 per 100,000 people in the general population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Several academic studies have estimated the number of law enforcement officers who commit suicide at about 18 per 100,000, though Mr. Douglas’s count, compiled from news accounts and personal contact with police departments, would put the rate at two or three times that.

    Wayne R. Keeney, a defense lawyer in Connecticut who spent nine years on the New York City police force in the 1970s, has little doubt that officers are at risk of suicide because of their exposure to danger and stress, a reluctance to seek psychological help, and the cold fact that, unlike many civilians, they “usually have a gun sitting around.”

    He said that for years after shooting a suspect who was fleeing the scene of a crime, he had nightmares in which he dreamed his gun’s trigger was jammed and the weapon failed to fire. But Mr. Keeney said the counseling he received afterward consisted of fellow officers taking him out to get drunk. Mr. Mitchell said he also suffered nightmares, lost weight and was left by his girlfriend in 1973, after he was in a shootout in which a fellow officer died. “We buried him on a Saturday morning,” Mr. Mitchell said. “I went to work that night.”

    He said he did not seek counseling for several years, fearful that reaching out would wreck his career. “Today we’re a lot more sophisticated,” he said. “We put people on administrative leave.”

    Lt. Paul Resnick, a spokesman for the 175-member Norwalk Police Department, said few would argue that police work, with a roster of grim tasks that include chasing suspects, racing to bloody crime and accident scenes and following up on child abuse cases, can take a toll.

    “People call you when they’re under the most stressful circumstances, when their lives are out of control and you’re trying to deal with that, with limited resources,” he said. “To somehow think you can turn the switch off at the end of the day is not realistic.”

    There is no indication, however, that work-related stress led to Officer Morelli’s death; he had not been involved in any shootings during nearly 12 years on the force, and he had compiled a strong record of commendations from the community. He had, however, gone through a divorce and custody battle.

    Born in Stamford and raised in nearby Weston, Officer Morelli became a Marine after high school and was decorated for his service in Operation Desert Storm. He joined the Norwalk Police Department in 1996 and was a patrolman and a member of the department’s scuba team.

    His personnel file contained letters of thanks from people he helped. After his death, residents of a local homeless shelter presented the police with $10 they collected to show their appreciation for his kindness. His neighbors in Oxford, Conn., described someone who was helpful, courteous and enjoyed raising alpacas and other animals on a small farm behind his house.

    But court records showed that Officer Morelli was locked in an international battle with his ex-wife, Tamra Bartholomaeus, over their daughter, Sydney Anne, who is 6.

    Ms. Bartholomaeus and Officer Morelli were married in 2001, and broke up in early 2005. She took Sydney to Australia in December 2005 for what Officer Morelli had been told was a “brief vacation,” he said in court papers, but she called three weeks later and said that she was not “going to return to Connecticut, and that she and the minor child would live in Australia permanently.”

    In the court papers, Officer Morelli also accused Ms. Bartholomaeus of running up $11,000 in debts before leaving town, on credit cards he said he was not aware she had. He asked the court to order Ms. Bartholomaeus back to Connecticut and sought sole custody of the child.

    But the couple’s divorce settlement, finalized in February 2006, allowed Ms. Bartholomaeus to remain in Australia, with Sydney. It ordered weekly telephone calls between Officer Morelli and his daughter, and called for her to spend two weeks each year with him in Connecticut, and for him to visit Australia two weeks a year as well.

    According to the court papers, Officer Morelli also agreed to make his daughter the beneficiary of a $100,000 life insurance policy, at least until she graduated from high school, and to name her the beneficiary of a $58,000 contractual benefit from the City of Norwalk that is “collectible only upon the event of the husband’s death while on duty.”

    City officials in Norwalk, including Mayor Richard A. Moccia, declined to discuss what Officer Morelli’s family would receive. The Norwalk police chief, Harry W. Rilling, made a point instead of praising the officer for the years he served. “Every day, he put on the uniform,” Chief Rilling said.

    On March 28, some 700 officers put on their dress uniforms and white gloves to accompany Officer Morelli’s body to a church cemetery, in the city he served.

    Al Baker, Rebecca Cathcart and Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting.

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