Family lawsuit alleges conspiracy to cover up murder of lawyer
06/07/2016 12:45 pm PDT
UPDATE November 12, 2018:
The Associated Press reports police officers and firefighters in Redding are trying to fend off an attempt to collect samples of their DNA by Dr. Dabela, who is trying to determine the source of unknown DNA found on the trigger of his son's gun at the crash site.
Police and firefighters submitted DNA samples about a year after Dabela's death, and state crime lab tests excluded them as the source of DNA found on the gun. But Keith Altman, one of Dr. Dabela's attorneys, said it was recently discovered that three firefighters who were at the scene did not submit DNA samples.
MORE: Victim's dad, NAACP criticize handling of black man's death - AP
UPDATE March 30, 2018:
Lawyers for the family of a Connecticut attorney found fatally shot in the head in a wrecked sport utility vehicle intend to challenge a judge's ruling that would allow a prosecutor to refuse to answer questions about how he determined there was no evidence of a homicide, WTIC reports.
MORE: Dead lawyer's family to appeal prosecutor immunity ruling - WTIC
UPDATE June 6, 2017:
Abe Dabela's death in April 2014 was caused when a gun went off after his car rolled over, according to the state's attorney office.
State's Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III said that attorney Gugsa Abraham “Abe” Dabela was traveling to his home in Redding In the early morning hours of April 5, 2014, “when his car overturned and the subsequent discharge of a firearm resulted in his death.”
The criminal investigation into this death is concluded, according to Sedensky.
June 7, 2016:
A bright young attorney named Abe Dabela is found dead in his overturned car with a bullet wound in the back of his head. Within hours his police pronounce his death a suicide. The surprisingly quick and baffling finding shocks Abe's already heartbroken loved ones.
"Somebody killed my son. He didn't kill himself," said Abe's father Dr. Abraham Dabela.
And now the suicide ruling is being called a suspicious rush to judgment in a sensational federal lawsuit filed by Abe's family, accusing police of conspiring to cover up a murder.
Abe's parents have trouble even talking about his death without fighting back tears
Abe was the Dabelas' only son, born and raised in Maryland after dad Abraham, a doctor, and mom Ellene had emigrated to the U.S. from Ethiopia.
"He was the typical American kid," said Ellene.
"In the second grade he was identified as gifted and talented and he had to be sent to special classes for this group of people," said Abraham.
Abe would go on to win a full college scholarship and earn three degrees, one of them in law, which his father says had always been his natural calling. The ambitious rookie attorney trained and worked with several major law firms.
But at age 32, Abe decided to open his own private law practice in the well-to-do suburban community of Redding, Connecticut. And Abe seemed to be well liked by those who had gotten to know him in Redding.
He liked to spark up stimulating conversation at his favorite watering holes.
"He was an argumentative dude, in a spirited way," said Abe's friend Patrick Pitre. "He just liked sort of debating things."
"Politically we were on two different sides, but I loved the banter back and forth, his views and my views, but all good," said Elio Cavicchia, owner of the Black Cat Grille.
But Abe's mother says he began to feel unwelcome by others in the mostly white community.
"He said 'There are some people that don't like me in Redding,' and I said 'Get out,'" said Ellene. "I was so worried for his life."
Abe also sent a Facebook message to a friend saying he felt so uncomfortable at a bar one night that he had to leave, writing "All the firehouse dudes were looking at me salty."
And Abe, a passionate gun rights proponent, had reportedly ruffled some powerful feathers by accusing the local police department of violating the Second Amendment.
"He was what some police officers would call a troublemaker," said attorney Solomon Radner. "The police didn't want to give him a license to carry a concealed weapon, and they made him jump through hoops, hoops they didn't make other people jump through."
Abe's law practice also focused on unfair property taxes, putting him at odds with city officials, one of whom he reportedly got into a heated argument with just days before the young lawyer's death.
"We know he was at a bar," said Radner. "We know there was some sort of confrontation."
After three years in Redding, the good-looking outgoing attorney appeared to be making more enemies than friends. But could someone have disliked Abe enough to kill him?
And less than two hours before he would die under suspicious circumstances, Abe reportedly received a foreboding text message.
"That read something along the lines of 'Turn, he just didn't,'" said Radner.
Abe Dabela's car crashed on a winding road on April 5, 2014. Moments later he would be shot and killed.
Police believe the shooter was Abe himself. But his family says there's no way, and they say a text message he received that night might help solve the mystery.
It was a Friday night in Redding, Connecticut, and Abe Dabela was out bar-hopping, happily mingling with friends and handing out business cards for his law practice, which wasn't unusual for the gregarious young attorney. Around 1 a.m. at his final watering hole of the evening, Abe was in good spirits.
"He was actually looking for a few people to go out and continue his partying ways when he left here," said Elio Cavicchia, owner of the Black Cat Grille, where Abe would drink the last beer of his life.
"I was probably one of the last people to actually talk to him," said Cavicchia.
Abe then drove his Mercedes off into the night, never to be seen alive again. A short time later, around 1:30 a.m., police would find Abe's car overturned in a ditch by the side of a road, less than 2 miles from his home.
Police pulled him out and declared him dead from a single gunshot that left two wounds in Abe's head, one in the back and one in the side.
And within hours, around 7 a.m. that Saturday, before an autopsy or investigation could even be conducted, Redding Police issued a press release, reading: "It does not appear that anyone else was involved ... and that the gunshot wound was self-inflicted."
"The most shocking thing to me is how quickly and unequivocally this was ruled a suicide," said Radner. "When a person is found with his car in a ditch and bullet in his head, how is that not going to be investigated as a crime, even if an investigation is done and several months later they conclude this was a suicide?"
Just as surprising, police made the announcement before even informing Abe's family, who learn the tragic news in a phone call from his landlady.
Doctor Abraham Dabela says he called the police and was told his son had died in a car crash. But the family wouldn't find out Abe had been shot dead until he was told by the medical examiner, and only learned it was suicide from the news.
"I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it," said Abraham. "I never believed my son would kill himself."
Police even gave Abe's father a possible motive.
"Shame, because he knew he had a car crash and had been drinking," said Abraham.
Police also theorized that Abe might have been suffering from depression, which Abraham Dabela dismisses. Abe's friends in Redding say the same thing. Nor did he seem depressed to bar owner Elio Cavicchia, who was speaking with Abe at the Black Cat Grille moments before his death.
"He was in a great mood, no issues whatsoever," said Cavicchia.
"Abe was a happy person with a lot to live for," said Abe's girlfriend Lauren Drinkard.
Including a romantic rendezvous with his girlfriend Lauren Drinkard, a Philadelphia attorney Abe had met when they were in graduate school together.
"Abe and I were supposed to meet in Boston that Sunday," said Lauren.
But Lauren didn't know why Abe wasn't there to meet her and not responding to her texts and phone calls. Lauren was still waiting for Abe in Boston when she called a mutual friend trying to learn why he hadn't turned up. Her shock and heartbreak turned to anger when she heard police were calling Abe's death a suicide.
"For them to offer that conclusion is outrageous," said Lauren.
The NAACP thought so too, opening its own investigation of a possible hate crime.
And when the Redding Police Department completed its investigation of Abe's death and issued an official report standing by its initial finding of suicide, friends, loved ones and others cried foul play.
"Their belief is if Abe had not been African-American in this small predominately white town, the police department would have conducted a thorough investigation," said WTIC Reporter Lorenzo Hall.
"This is part of a police cover-up," said Lauren Drinkard.
"Somebody killed my son," said Abrahama Dabela.
Something strange happened while Abe Dabela was out bar-hopping in Redding, Connecticut on the last night of his life, a bizarre message popped up on his cellphone.
"Shortly after midnight he received a text message that read something along the lines of, 'Turn, he just didn't,'" said attorney Solomon Radner.
What exactly did that message mean, "Turn, he just didn't?" It baffled everyone. But eerily, less than two hours later, at a sharp turn on the road leading to his home, Abe would be found shot dead in his overturned car.
But it's unlikely anyone will ever know if that eerie text message had anything to do with his death.
"But what we do know is that it was deleted from his phone while it was in police custody," said Radner.
And that's just one of many serious allegations in a civil lawsuit filed by Abe Dabela's family accusing the Redding Police Department of conspiring to cover up Abe's murder by declaring it a suicide.
"We're alleging that the police knew that this was going to happen beforehand and obviously whoever committed this horrible murder most likely knew that the police would call this a suicide," said Radner.
That's a serious allegation to make against a police department with no record of any previous misconduct. But Solomon Radner, a defense attorney who specializes in civil rights and police misconduct cases, was so outraged by the circumstances surrounding Abe's death that he even agreed to file the lawsuit on behalf of the Dabela family pro bono.
"When I was looking at this evidence and reading through the reports and reading through the witness statements, it just absolutely wasn't adding up," said Radner.
In fact, Radner says evidence uncovered by the police themselves actually makes a stronger case for murder than suicide.
"There's no question in my mind that they failed to conduct a proper investigation," said Radner. "The question is why, and what they knew, and when they knew it."
As well as that mysterious text message, Radner says he has a team of investigators also trying to learn if there is any connection between Abe's death and a motorist who called 911 to report seeing his overturned car, but then hung up without leaving a name, and reportedly never stopped to help.
Radner says almost everything about the case is suspicious
"There was no suicide note," said Radner. "There was absolutely no evidence this was a suicide."
But Radner says there is plenty of evidence that it wasn't. Abe was found dead from a single gunshot that left two wounds in the back of his head, one behind each ear. Police say the bullet entered on the left side, but Abe was right-handed. So Radner asks why didn't Abe shoot himself in the right side of the head?
"It's just common sense," said Radner.
Others have found that odd too.
"A guy in an upside-down wrecked car then grabs a gun and reaches around this way," said Abe's friend Patrick Pitre. "I just never heard of that."
Was Abe's DNA found on the gun's trigger?
"In fact, Abe's DNA was not found on the trigger," said Radner. "But there's DNA on the trigger that does not match Abe. It probably matches the shooter."
Just as shocking, none of Abe's blood and DNA was found on the bullet police say killed him.
"It has no blood on it," said Radner. "It has nothing on it that would suggest it went through somebody's head. Claiming that a bullet went through somebody's head and has absolutely no trace of DNA on it borders on the absurd."
Radner claims it's not the bullet that killed Abe, and it wasn't until four days after Abe died that the bullet was found on the ground at the scene of the car crash.
"Why wasn't it found day one, day two, day three?" said Radner. "Finally, day four, they go back and find this bullet. Now I don't know if they put it there. I don't know if it was planted. I would certainly hope not, but given the facts and circumstances surrounding this so-called investigation, I wouldn't put it past them."
Then there's the mystery of the bullet hole in the driver's seat. Police fired Abe's gun into the front passenger seat to try to get a match. But they couldn't replicate it, suggesting Abe may have been shot with another gun.
"And that's in their own reports," said Radner.
Two clues were left at the scene of Abe's death. The first is a hair found on the passenger side window of his overturned car.
"It was never tested for anybody. It was never checked," said Radner.
The second clue: A muddy footprint found on the back of the jacket Abe was wearing
Maybe one of the investigators or one of the first-responders or someone there, it could've accidentally happened?
"The likelihood of a first-responder accidentally stepping on a dead person, I think is about as absurd as the conclusion that this was suicide," said Radner.
Radner says both the footprint and the hair could be those of Abe's killer.
Considering all the evidence, Radner believes Abe was shot in the head by another motorist while he was driving home.
"Most likely what happened was someone who was an expert shot him through his window, which is why it was shattered," said Radner. "His car then flipped over and went in a ditch, the killer then went to the scene, left footprints on the window and on his jacket, retrieved that bullet, and this person then shot Abe's gun so that a bullet would be found."
But Redding Police Chief Douglas Fuchs denies every accusation in the lawsuit and stands by the official finding: "It does not appear that anyone else was involved, and that the gunshot wound was self-inflicted."
"There is every indication that nobody else was in the vehicle and whatever took place, took place within the vehicle," said Fuchs.
"So the office of the state's attorney is taking over the investigation at this point, hoping to release their findings soon," said reporter Lorenzo Hall.
Now Abe's friends and family can only hope they will learn the truth in court.
In response to our Crime Watch Daily story, the state's attorney in Danbury tells us in part: "Although the investigation is not yet complete, it has revealed no evidence of any conspiracy on the part of the Redding Police Department. If the matter is determined to be a homicide, further action will be necessary."
Crime Watch Daily also contacted the Redding Police Department, which sent us an eight-page response that said in part: "It is important to restate that this department has opened its books and investigative materials to any and all entities whom were engaged by the victims' family and we will willingly continue to do so."
Anyone with information as to what happened to Abe Dabela the night of his death can submit a tip to Crime Watch Daily, or contact Solomon Radner at (800) LAW-FIRM.
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