HARTFORD, Conn. – The death of a Connecticut attorney found shot in the head in a wrecked car in 2014 was not a homicide as his family believes, a state prosecutor said Tuesday in announcing the conclusion of a criminal investigation.
Gugsa Abraham "Abe" Dabela, 35, crashed his Mercedes SUV near his home in Redding shortly after 1:30 a.m. on April 5, 2014, and died of what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head, Redding police said. Dabela's blood-alcohol level was nearly 2.5 times the legal limit, police said. The medical examiner's office ruled his death a suicide.
"The evidence does not support a conclusion that Attorney Dabela's death was a homicide," Danbury State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky III said in a statement announcing his findings.
Dabela's family disputes authorities' version of what happened and believe race — Dabela was black and Redding is a predominantly white town — was a factor in the investigation's findings, which authorities deny. Relatives say many questions remain unanswered, including why Dabela's DNA was not found on the gun's trigger or the bullet that killed him, why there was a footprint on his back and why the body wasn't tested for gunshot residue.
A lawsuit by Dabela's father against Redding police also says the younger Dabela, who grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, received a text message on the night of his death that read, "turn he just didn't," apparently referring to the SUV crash. The lawsuit alleges information about the sender of the text was deleted sometime after Dabela's death.
His father, Abraham Dabela, said he believes the truth will come out in a pending lawsuit against Redding police.
"My son was killed," said Dabela, a medical doctor in Maryland. "We will continue to pursue the issue until either I die ... or we don't have funding anymore to pay the lawyer."
The family's lawyer, Keith Altman, called Sedensky's conclusion "outrageous" and said Dabela had no history of mental illness or suicidal thoughts.
"Prosecutors don't say crimes weren't committed when they don't know exactly what took place," said Altman, whose law firm is in Southfield, Michigan. "So why he (Sedensky) chose to do this here, I don't know.
"But I can tell you discovery (in the lawsuit) is going to come down and I don't think it's going to be pretty for them," Altman said, referring to Sedensky and police.
Altman said he intended to subpoena Sedensky for a deposition in the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court.
The state chapter of the NAACP also has been looking into the case. Scot X. Esdaile, president of the state chapter, said he was disappointed in Sedensky's ruling and wants the prosecutor to explain.
"Hopefully he has something that could significantly back his statement," Esdaile said.
Sedensky defended his investigation and conclusions in a phone interview Tuesday.
"I feel badly for the family and this is a tremendous loss to the family," he said. "My office put the time in to address the concerns they had. I take my job very seriously. If a citizen in my judicial district dies as a result of a crime, I want to see that prosecuted."
Sedensky said Dabela's DNA was found on the gun's grip, but not the trigger, and acknowledged Dabela's DNA wasn't found on the bullet. He said the DNA of three other people were found on the gun, but that possibly could have been the result of Dabela shaking hands with people with whom he socialized on the night of his death.
Dabela also was not shot in the back of the head like the lawsuit alleges, Sedensky said. He said the bullet's entrance wound was behind his right ear.
The lawsuit by Dabela's father also alleges animosity between Redding officials and Dabela. It says that Redding police wrongly delayed Dabela's application for a permit to carry a concealed handgun in 2013 before finally giving it to him, and that he and a town finance official had a heated argument over property taxes two nights before his death.
Redding Police Chief Douglas Fuchs has said there was no animosity between police and Dabela.