WATERTOWN, Conn. – An argument between a Connecticut teenager and her mother’s boyfriend over his smoking in the house turned deadly after the man shot the 15-year-old and her 16-year-old brother on Tuesday night and then killed himself, according to the Watertown Police Department.
Della Jette and Sterling Jette Jr. were transported to Waterbury Hospital where they both were pronounced dead shortly after arrival, according to a news release from the Watertown Police Department. Their mother, identified by CNN affiliate WTNH as Danielle Jette, was on the scene when the shootings occurred and called 911, police said. She was not injured.
Paul W. Ferguson, 42, was pronounced dead at the scene from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, police said in the news release.
He had moved into the home two weeks before the incident, police said.
The argument began after Della Jette grew upset by Ferguson smoking in the house, Watertown Police detective and spokesman Mark Conway told CNN. Ferguson then retrieved a handgun from his bedroom and shot Sterling Jette — who had attempted to intervene — in the leg, Watertown Chief of Police John C. Gavallas said in a news conference covered by WTNH .
“The mother went downstairs to call 911 when she heard a second gunshot, presumably when he shot the daughter on the deck,” Gavallas said. “He came back in the house and shot the son in the chest.”
Watertown Police were called to the home at around 9:47 p.m. and arrived to find the teenagers suffering from life-threatening injuries. They were transported to an area hospital where they both died, police said.
The teenagers’ deaths were ruled homicides by the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner on Wednesday.
Ferguson was a convicted felon and not authorized to possess a firearm, according to police. He was convicted of first-degree unlawful restraint after an arrest on a sexual assault charge in 2007, Conway said.
Both teenagers were students at Kaynor Technical High School, according to police.
Jeffrey Wihbey, the superintendent of Connecticut Technical Schools, said there is nothing worse that can happen to a school community, according to a statement obtained by CNN affiliate WTNH.
“Our number one priority right now is doing all we can to support our students, staff and families through this crisis,” Wihbey said in the statement. “Prior to the start of the school day, Kaynor Tech assembled the school’s crisis team. The team will provide grief counseling to students and anyone in the school community who may need it over the coming days.”
Watertown detectives, the Connecticut State Police and the Waterbury States Attorney’s Office are investigating the incident. Police say Jette is cooperating with investigators.
This is not the first tragedy to occur at the Connecticut home, police said.
Police responded to the home three years ago when Danielle Jette’s husband and Della and Sterling’s father, Sterling Jette Sr., fatally shot himself after a minor domestic dispute, Conway said.
“This mother is completely distraught as you can imagine,” Gavallas said during a press conference. “Boyfriend moves in the house two weeks ago for the holiday season. He’s gone and both her children are gone.”
Investigators have not revealed any details about the circumstances surrounding the shooting, but family members said they’re confident that no foul play was involved.
“This was an accident. Fayaadh is an excellent and great kid just like his brother,” their uncle, Hasan Ford, told ABC News on Wednesday as the family prepared for the young man’s Thursday burial. “They were our greatest pride and our greatest joy. They were the ones with the most potential of our lineage.”
He declined to discuss how the teens gained access to the firearm, but he said the brothers had “never dealt with guns prior to this incident.”
Fayaadh has been charged with murder, possession of an instrument of crime, unsworn falsification to authorities, and obstructing justice, according to police.
John Davidson, assistant principal and head football coach for Mastery Charter School Lenfest Campus, where the brothers were both seniors, said the loss had shaken the school community. He described Suhail as “a scholar athlete” who was fielding college offers from several schools.
“He was a hard worker — on and off the field. He was one of the players that I would love to coach again,” Davidson told ABC News Wednesday following a school-sponsored ceremony in the teen’s honor. “We all admired his work ethic, his commitment to the game and his strive to always be better.”
“As a school, we’ve rallied together to support one another as well as his family in this tragic time,” he added.
Davidson said Suhail had attended the charter school since seventh grade and was a Philadelphia all-star and a three-time All-Public League player. He was also a member of the school’s track team.
The school hosted a balloon releasing ceremony for Suhail at Penn’s Landing, the waterfront park where the school is scheduled to hold its senior graduation later this year. The school is also planning to present the teen’s mother with a trophy and jersey in the near future, according to Davidson.
“He’s been in our school since the seventh grade and his mom has been a part of our fabric since he’s been here. We’re a very small school with a strong family atmosphere,” Davidson said. “We’re trying to heal, but it’s a continuing process and it’s going to go on for some time.”
Classmates remembered the slain teen with a memorial near the school’s entrance featuring his football jersey number, flowers, and numerous photos of him and his friends.
At a police station tucked into an end-of-the-line subway terminal in South Brooklyn, the new commander instructed officers to think of white and Asian people as “soft targets” and urged them to instead go after blacks and Latinos for minor offenses like jumping the turnstile, a half-dozen officers said in sworn statements.
“You are stopping too many Russian and Chinese,” one of the officers, Daniel Perez, recalled the commander telling him earlier this decade.
Another officer, Aaron Diaz, recalled the same commander saying in 2012, “You should write more black and Hispanic people.”
The sworn statements, gathered in the last few months as part of a discrimination lawsuit, deal with a period between 2011 and 2015. But they are now emerging publicly at a time when policing in the subway has become a contentious issue, sparking protests over a crackdown on fare evasion and other low-level offenses.
The commander, Constantin Tsachas, was in charge of more than 100 officers who patrolled a swath of the subway system in Brooklyn, his first major command. Since then, he has been promoted to the second-in-command of policing the subway system throughout Brooklyn. Along the way, more than half a dozen subordinates claim, he gave them explicit directives about whom to arrest based on race.
Those subordinates recently came forward, many for the first time, providing signed affidavits to support a discrimination lawsuit brought by four black and Hispanic police officers.
The officers claim they faced retaliation from the New York Police Department because they objected to what they said was a longstanding quota system for arrests and tickets, which they argued mainly affected black and Hispanic New Yorkers.
The authorities have deployed hundreds of additional officers to the subways, provoking a debate about overpolicing and the criminalization of poverty. Videos of arrests of young black men and of a woman selling churros in the subway system have gone viral in recent weeks. Demonstrators have taken to the subway system and jumped turnstiles in protest.
Six officers said in their affidavits that Mr. Tsachas, now a deputy inspector, pressured them to enforce low-level violations against black and Hispanic people, while discouraging them from doing the same to white or Asian people.
Inspector Tsachas declined to comment when reached by telephone this week, but his union representative said the inspector denied the allegations of misconduct. The Police Department also declined to address the allegations.
The department has said in the past that its enforcement of fare evasion is not aimed at black and Hispanic people.
More than three years ago, when Inspector Tsachas was promoted to his current rank, the police commissioner at the time, William J. Bratton, said that allegations Inspector Tsachas pushed quotas were false.
“I have full faith and support in him,” Mr. Bratton said. He added that Inspector Tsachas had “the requisite skills and comes highly recommended.”
Most of the people arrested on charges of fare evasion in New York are black or Hispanic, according to data the Police Department has been required to report under local law since 2017.
Between October 2017 and June 2019, black and Hispanic people, who account for slightly more than half the population in New York City, made up nearly 73 percent of those who got a ticket for fare evasion and whose race was recorded. They also made up more than 90 percent of those who were arrested, rather than given a ticket.
Some elected officials have complained about the apparent racial disparity in arrests, saying it may indicate bias on the part of officers or an unofficial policy of racial profiling by the police.
“The focus of black and brown people, even if other people were doing the same crime, points to what many of us have been saying for a while,” the city’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams, said in an interview. “The same actions lead to different results, unfortunately, depending on where you live and an overlay of what you look like.”
Enforcement has surged nearly 50 percent in 2019, as city police officers issued 22,000 more tickets for fare evasion this year compared to 2018, according to Police Department data from November 10.
While the affidavits focus on a time period that ended nearly five years ago, they suggest at least one police commander openly pushed racial profiling when making arrests in the subway.
“I got tired of hunting Black and Hispanic people because of arrest quotas,” one former officer, Christopher LaForce, said in his affidavit, explaining his decision to retire in 2015.
In the affidavits, the officers said that different enforcement standards applied to different stations across Transit District 34, which spanned stations across South Brooklyn: Brooklyn’s Chinatown in Sunset Park; neighborhoods with large Orthodox Jewish communities; a corner of Flatbush that is home to many Caribbean immigrants; and the Russian enclave around Brighton Beach.
“Tsachas would get angry if you tried to patrol subway stations in predominately white or Asian neighborhoods” Mr. LaForce said in his affidavit. He added that the commander would redirect officers to stations in neighborhoods with larger black and Hispanic populations.
Mr. Diaz, who retired from the Police Department last year, described in his affidavit how on one occasion then-Captain Tsachas seemed irritated at him for having stopped several Asian people for fare evasion and told him he should be issuing tickets to “more black and Hispanic people.”
At the time, Officer Diaz said, he was assigned to the N Line, which passes through neighborhoods with large numbers of Chinese-Americans. He had arrested multiple residents of that neighborhoods for doubling up as they went through the turnstiles, according to his affidavit.
Other officers described similar experiences. Some of the officers claimed in affidavits that Inspector Tsachas urged his officers to come up with reasons to stop black men, especially those with tattoos, and check them for warrants.
Of the six officers, all but one is retired. They are all black or Hispanic. The affidavits were given to The New York Times by one of the four officers who has sued the Police Department, Lt. Edwin Raymond.
The allegations in the affidavits were bolstered by a police union official, Corey Grable, who gave a deposition in June in the same lawsuit that recounted his interactions with Inspector Tsachas. He recalled Inspector Tsachas had once complained about a subordinate who Inspector Tsachas said seemed to go for “soft targets.”
Unsure what that meant, Officer Grable asked if the officer was ticketing old ladies for minor offenses? Inspector Tsachas responded: “No, Asian.”
Officer Grable, who is black, asked, “Would you have been more comfortable if these guys were black or Hispanic?”
“Yes,” Inspector Tsachas replied, according to Officer Grable’s recollection.
Inspector Tsachas joined the Police Department in 2001 and patrolled public housing developments in Harlem for five years. He later analyzed crime patterns in Queens and across the city before being transferred to the Transit Bureau. He was a captain in 2011 when he was appointed to command Brooklyn’s District 34, a position he held for at least four years.
In 2015, he took command of neighboring Transit District 32, where Lieutenant Raymond, who is currently suing him, worked. At the time Mr. Raymond held the rank of police officer.
Lieutenant Raymond has charged in the lawsuit that Inspector Tsachas blocked his promotion by giving him a low evaluation as punishment for not making enough arrests.
Lieutenant Raymond, who is now a patrol supervisor in Brooklyn, recorded a conversation in October 2015 in which Inspector Tsachas encouraged him to arrest more people and gave an example of the sort of arrest he did not want: a 42-year-old Asian woman with no identification arrested on a charge of fare beating.
Lieutenant Raymond, who still had the rank of police officer at the time, responded that it was unconstitutional to consider race when deciding whom to arrest. Inspector Tsachas, a captain at the time, then apologized, saying the comment “didn’t come out the way it’s supposed to.”
Lieutenant Raymond said he believed Inspector Tsachas should not have been promoted. “It’s a spit in the face of communities of color that this man is given more power after being exposed as a bigot,” he said.