State police sought additional gun charge against East Lyme police chief (2024)

East Lyme Police Chief Michael Finkelstein and his lawyer John J. Nazzaro check the time during an appearance in Middletown Superior Court, Monday, June 24, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy Photo Reprints

East Lyme ― Police Chief Michael Finkelstein, who is already facing multiple criminal charges, appears to have avoided an additional charge related to his alleged illegal transfer of a handgun without state authorization.

State police this week disclosed that prosecutors decided not to pursue the charge.

State police spokesman Sgt. Luke Davis confirmed on Tuesday that state police had not overlooked the possible violation of the state’s firearms transfer law and had sought Finkelstein’s arrest on the charge as part of the warrant application it submitted to the state’s attorney’s office for review.

A gun-related charge was not included in the warrant signed by Middlesex County State’s Attorney Michael Gailor. Gailor did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday. A spokeswoman for the Division of Criminal Justice said it would be inappropriate for a prosecutor like Gailor to make “public, extrajudicial statements” about a pending criminal case.

Chief State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin’s involvement with the case concerned “ensuring that the matter would be handled in an outside jurisdiction to avoid the appearance of a potential conflict of interest.” The case had been transferred out of the New London Judicial District to Middlesex County.

“The decision about whether to pursue criminal charges in the state of Connecticut is vested in the state's attorney for each judicial district,” the spokeswoman said.

The investigation into Finkelstein, which state police say is now closed, began with a June 4 domestic abuse complaint by Finkelstein’s wife, and led to three separate criminal cases against him, including a felony charge of a violation of a protective order linked to his alleged failure to turn over a personal firearm following his arrest.

Finkelstein has two arrests on misdemeanor charges connected to domestic-related incidents at his East Lyme home in 2023 and 2024. The first arrest came on June 5 after his wife alleged Finkelstein assaulted her during an argument at their East Lyme home on June 3.

State police from the Eastern District Major Crime Squad took the investigation out of the hands of East Lyme police and charged Finkelstein with disorderly conduct and second-degree breach of peace. Continued investigation by state police led to the review of an East Lyme police response to a 911 call from Finkelstein’s wife a year prior, on June 18, 2023. That investigation led to the June 24 arrest of Finkelstein on an additional charge of disorderly conduct.

Also on June 24, state police served a warrant stemming from allegations by state police that Finkelstein had not told police about two personal handguns registered in his name, leading to charges of making a false statement and violation of a protective order.

Finkelstein was mandated by the court to hand over any firearms within 24 hours when the protective order was issued on June 5. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, U.S. v. Rahimi, upheld a 1984 federal law that allows confiscation of firearms from people charged in domestic violence-related cases.

During the June 4 arrest, state police asked Finkelstein if he had any guns in his possession. He unlocked his town-owned Chevy Tahoe and explained his loaded department-issued 9 mm handgun was under the seat. Police seized that gun.

“I don’t remember”

Finkelstein went on to sign a Firearm and Ammunition Compliance Statement stating he was not in possession of any firearms or ammunition.

But a state police records search turned up two more guns registered under Finkelstein’s name ― one registered in 1995 and another in 2015 ― police reports show. When asked what happened to the guns, Finkelstein told police “I don’t remember,” according to the affidavit for his arrest warrant.

When asked about one handgun he had registered in 1995, Finkelstein replied “I definitely don’t have that. I think I transferred it to a co-worker back in Ledyard.”

Finkelstein worked as a police officer for more than 20 years in Ledyard, retiring in 2015 as a lieutenant and going on to become the town’s mayor before being hired as chief when East Lyme established an independent police force in 2017.

When asked if he transferred both registered guns, Finkelstein replied, “Yeah, all I have is my duty weapon.”

He would later reveal that he still had one of the registered guns and that it was stored in the garage at his East Lyme home.

State law on gun transfers

The state police Special Licensing and Firearms Unit confirmed to state police detectives that Finkelstein had never authorized a transfer of either of the guns. Under state statute 29-33, someone with a valid pistol permit can transfer a firearm to someone else with a permit, but not without first applying and receiving approval from state police.

Retired state police officer and firearms instructor Daniel Maxwell, a lecturer from the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Science at the University of New Haven, said that the application process for transfer of firearms in Connecticut allows police to perform a background check on the person who is getting the gun. It’s a way for the state to track who is buying the gun and whether they can legally own a gun, Maxwell said.

State police said they tracked down the new owner of Finkelstein’s handgun. The man, whose name is redacted in the arrest warrant, told police “he was expecting a call from State Police after seeing the media reports about Finkelstein’s arrest,” the warrant for Finkelstein’s arrest states.

The unidentified man confirmed to police that he did buy a firearm from Finkelstein more than 10 years prior, when Finkelstein was a lieutenant and he was a sergeant at the Ledyard police department. The gun was no longer in his possession, but rather in a locked safe at a friend’s home. He went on to tell police the address of where to find the gun.

Police would later track the second gun registered to Finkelstein to the garage at his family home in East Lyme. In an interview with state police Detective Patrick O’Brien on June 12, Finkelstein said when he was asked on June 5 about his guns, “I could not think straight,” the warrant states.

Finkelstein told police he remembered that the other gun in his possession was left in a red gear bag inside a locked gun case. Finkelstein also remembered at that time that he had sold his other gun to a former co-worker “but I did not fill out any transfer paperwork for the gun,” the warrant states.

State police went to Finkestein’s home to find the bag with the “Glock 26” 9 mm handgun in the garage, as Finkelstein had described. It was loaded with 10 rounds of ammunition. Also inside the bag were two magazines for a P320 Sig Sauer on a police duty belt with 17 rounds of 9 mm ammunition in each magazine.

The key to the bag was on a concrete shelf next to the bag.

“The bag was accessible to anyone who entered the garage and there were children’s toys and bicycles surrounding the bag,” the warrant states.

Connecticut’s safe storage law

Kerri Raissian, director of the University of Connecticut’s Advancing Research, Methods, and Scholarship in Gun Injury Prevention (ARMS) program, said state law concerning the safe storage of firearms was expanded by the state’s General Assembly last year.

State law now requires safe storage of all firearms “with no exceptions” at all times even if no minors or prohibited persons are present on the property. All firearms must be stored in a securely locked box or other container or in a manner “that a reasonable person” would believe to be secure, Raissian said.

Whether the gun could be considered safely secured is a question for the criminal justice system, she said.

“I think most decision makers in the criminal justice system would think it unreasonable that a lock box with a key next to it is secure,” she said. “What’s not in question is he was barred from having a firearm in any storage. He should not have had it.”

State and federal domestic violence laws require seizure of guns for a reason, Raissian said, noting violence that occurs in private homes can often spill out to public spaces.

“That’s why these laws exist. It’s not just because the risk between the abuser and the victim exists and we’re concerned about that and we want a civilized society. It’s also because those laws keep the rest of us safe,” Raissian said.

John J. Nazzaro, Finkelstein’s attorney, declined comment on the question of the transfer of Finkelstein’s firearm. In an interview on Wednesday, Nazzaro further explained the circ*mstances of how state police found the gun in his garage.

Nazzaro said Finkelstein was arrested shortly after midnight on June 5 and arraigned in court later that morning, where a judge issued a protective order barring him from going home.

Since he was not able to go to his home, Nazzaro said Finkelstein made arrangements with his wife to place the key near the locked gun container for easy access by state police.

“There was never any false statement or an intent to violate a protective order,” Nazzaro said. “A false statement requires an intent to mislead. He’s done nothing but cooperate with authorities.”

And while Finkelstein does not face any criminal charges related to the gun storage or transfer of his second firearm, Raissian said that state prosecutors have the option of pursuing additional charges or not “at subsequent stages in the process.”

Finkelstein, whose lawyer said remains in-patient alcohol and stress-related counseling, had his criminal case transferred to Middletown Superior Court where he is scheduled to appear on July 29.

Finkelstein has applied for a family violence diversion program, which would could lead to dismissal of charges against him. That application is pending.

g.smith@theday.com

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include correspondence with the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney.

State police sought additional gun charge against East Lyme police chief (2024)
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