Pubdate: Tues, 21 Sep 1999
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 1999, New Haven Register
Author: Michelle Tuccitto, Register Staff


NORTH BRANFORD -- Autopsy toxicology results on the West Haven woman fatally
shot by a North Branford police officer July 13 show she had cocaine in her
system, sources said.

But Victoria Cooper's family members and their attorney say that the angle
of the bullet wound, not her alleged drug use, is the real issue.

Police Officer Michael Breen fatally shot Cooper when she allegedly drove
her car at him in a life-threatening manner during a traffic stop on Route

Cooper, 41, was a passenger in a Camaro which Breen stopped about 1:30 a.m.
after he determined the vehicle owner's license was suspended.

The driver, Cooper's boyfriend, Steven Guerette, 41, of Wallingford, got out
of the car. After a search, Breen found traces of cocaine on his person,
police said.

Guerette fled on foot. Breen pursued him but lost him. As Breen was making
his way back to his cruiser, Cooper took the wheel of the Camaro and started
to drive at the officer, police said.

Breen told investigators that he saw Cooper driving toward him, so he fired
two shots. While the first glanced off the car's hood, the second shattered
the driver's side window and struck Cooper in the chest cavity, killing her.

Guerette, 41, of Wallingford, confirmed that he and Cooper did cocaine
together the night of the shooting.

Jack Kelly of Orange, who is Breen's attorney, said this is important to his
client's case.

"It confirms my belief that this consumption of illegal drugs prior to her
contact with my client helps explain in part why she did what she did," said
Kelly. "The good judgment one might have under normal circumstances is
weakened." Cocaine is a stimulant, and its possible effects include
increased alertness, excitation, paranoia, increased pulse rate and impaired
judgment, according to anti-drug literature presented by the Connecticut
Statewide Narcotics Task Force and the U.S. Department of Justice's Drug
Enforcement Administration.

According to the Chief State Medical Examiner's Office, Cooper died of a
single gunshot wound to the chest area. Toxicology results are finished, but
an office spokesperson said they aren't available to the public. Joanne
Cowan, Cooper's sister-in-law, said the bullet passed from Cooper's left
side to her right side, puncturing both lungs and her aorta.

"I would be surprised if she had cocaine in her system, but I've only read
the autopsy report, not the toxicology report," said Cowan. "Regardless, the
autopsy results show that he wasn't standing in front of the car, so it
wasn't like she was going to run him down. Whether she was doing drugs or
not is beside the point."

Kelly expressed confidence that the investigation and reconstruction of the
incident will show that Breen acted appropriately.

"The officer was in genuine fear of his life," said Kelly. "Those two shots
were fired in rapid succession. The officer did what the law permitted him
to do and he acted within the law."

New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington declined to comment. State
Police spokesman Lt. Ralph Carpenter said the autopsy and toxicology reports
won't be available to the public until the investigation is complete.

Cooper's family's attorney, David Rosen of the New Haven-based law firm of
Rosen and Dolan, would neither confirm nor deny whether cocaine was in
Cooper's system.

"What concerns me is that there is an officer on the road while there is
still a criminal investigation," Rosen said.

While Breen was put on desk duty immediately after the shooting, he returned
to his regular duties earlier this month due to a police department staffing

"We are still waiting to get all the evidence," Rosen said. "My
understanding of what the medical examiner had to say is that the bullet
entered her side. From what I've seen, this young woman was shot by the
police officer when she had already driven halfway past him."

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