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Troubled history with police climaxed in death

January 5, 2019

DANBURY - For a man prone to alcohol abuse, street belligerence and fights with the law, Paul Arbitelle’s violent death at the hands of city police on Dec. 29 seems as though it closes the book on a life of trouble.

But this is more than a crime story.

As the probe into police’s fatal shooting of 45-year-old Arbitelle and the serious wounding of his mother enters its second week, family and friends are waiting for investigators to determine exactly what happened in the final moment of his life, as he confronted two officers with a knife.

If Arbitelle’s long arrest record is any guide, his confrontation with two police officers in front of his mother’s apartment that Saturday night was part of a lifelong pattern with the law that involved alcohol, agitation and aggression.

“You see his history and his behavior, and I don’t know the root cause of it,” said Patrick Callahan, a chief probation officer in Danbury who supervised Arbitelle’s probation cases. “It’s a sad thing when anyone loses a life, but I just don’t know what happened with this man.”

Whether the two Danbury officers responding on Dec. 29 to a 911 call of a man with a knife recognized Arbitelle as the ex-convict who had done combat with city officers twice in the last six years, investigators have not said. In fact, investigators have released few details about the fatal shooting, including the officers’ names.

Arbitelle was certainly easy enough to recognize, however - with a serpent tattooed under his right eye and a skull tattooed on the left side of his face. He also had swastikas and “white power” tattooed on his body.

Although city officials and police have said they are withholding key information to be sure all the details are accurate as part of the investigation report, they have already said the use of deadly force was justified.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton suggested that investigators from the state police Western District Major Crime Squad would determine that the shooting was in self-defense.

Where the conclusion of the police investigation will leave Danbury is unclear. The city has not had an on-duty police officer fire a gun at a suspect in 20 years, as far as anyone can recall.

The family has declined to say anything publicly about the death of Paul Arbitelle or the shooting of his mother, 74-year-old Linda Arbitelle, except through a lawyer.

Attorney Robert Berke filed notice that the mother will sue the city for damages. The attorney said he is working with Arbirtelle’s daughter because Arbitelle herself remains in critical condition at Danbury Hospital.

Meanwhile, the family is grieving the loss of a combative son, who had a considerate side that surfaced in court, according to one attorney who represented him.

“I remember that serpent tattoo, and I remember him as a delightful gentleman,” said Angelica Papastavros, now an assistant public defender in New Haven, who represented Arbitelle in 2011, when he was convicted of a racially motivated assault on a black man in Danbury. “He would say, ‘Yes, Angelica, no Angelica,’ and I was able to have cordial conversation with him.”

Constant conflict

Arbitelle’s life was punctuated and defined by his fights with the law.

His paper trail of arrests, court appearances and convictions tells a story that is heavy on criminal activity. As a man who was on probation five times in 10 years and who was released from the maximum security MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in October, there is little evidence in publicly available records about his work life.

“I don’t know what his issue was or why he kept getting arrested,” said Callahan, the chief probation officer.

Nor is there much record of a social life. Arbitelle is listed as a member of the Danbury High School class of 1992, but there is no sign of him in his senior yearbook.

A cryptic entry under the title of “News Of The Weird” that appeared in The Chicago Tribune in 1992 notes that a 17-year-old Paul Arbitelle in Danbury was accused of attempting to kill his mother with a hatchet after “she failed to properly toast” his bagel.

After that, Arbitelle’s name appears frequently in court filings and criminal history search records, showing 11 arrests and 10 guilty pleas, ranging from larceny, harassment and assault convictions to resisting arrest, interfering with law enforcement, and assaulting a police officer.

In particular, Arbitelle was found guilty of assaulting a Danbury police officer in 2016, and assaulting two Danbury police officers in 2011.

In the older case, he was accused of fighting with officers who were taking him into custody after he attacked a black man in Danbury. Arbitelle’s lawyer told the judge that Arbitelle was “completely drunk,” “off his medications,” and was “really embarrassed by this.”

The attorney also told the judge that the white supremacist tattoos on Arbitelle’s body were old marks that didn’t represent his feelings anymore.

Several tattoo artists in Danbury said they did not recognize Arbitelle’s tattoos coming from any of the city’s reputable shops. One artist said Arbitelle’s tattoos looked like prison tattoos.

The final fight

Arbitelle was out of prison only two months when he fought with police for the last time.

Police have said little about the exact circumstances of the 9:30 p.m. shooting outside the Glen Apartments senior housing complex on Memorial Drive, except for a one-paragraph release.

But neighbors say a family argument escalated quickly into a tense showdown with officers.

The yelling might have started inside the apartment and spilled onto the lawn between the apartments, neighbors said. When officers arrived, they saw Arbitelle appearing intoxicated and wielding a knife.

Police said one officer fired a stun gun, but it did not stop Arbitelle’s advance. Another officer fired multiple shots at him, striking him at least once.

Linda Arbitelle also was struck, but it is unclear whether it was by a separate bullet or a piece of the one that hit her son, police said.

Neighbor Alberta Peterson heard it all out of her back window.

“I heard the yelling, but that’s typical around here,” she said. “I heard five pops right in a row, so fast that I could tell it wasn’t fireworks.”

A moment later, paramedics were rushing the mother and son to the hospital, where Paul Arbitelle was pronounced dead.

rryser@newstimes.com 203-731-3342

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