Sen. Harding: “Maximize the benefit to Trooper Pelletier’s family”

June 24, 2024

Trooper’s widow out of pension

State already looking to make changes to law


SOUTHINGTON — The widow of a state police trooper killed in the line of duty last month will not see a dime of his pension under current state law, a situation sparking demands for reform. Trooper Aaron Pelletier, 34, of Southington, died May 30 after being struck by a pickup truck while conducting a traffic stop on Interstate 84 East in Southington. Pelletier pulled over a motorist for not wearing a seat belt during an overtime traffic enforcement shift.

Alex Oyola-Sanchez, an unlicensed driver with a lengthy and violent criminal record in Puerto Rico, allegedly struck Pelletier with the pickup truck while high on fentanyl and other drugs. He is accused of fleeing the scene and police later arrested him in Farmington. He remains held on $1.5 million bond since his arrest on a slew of charges, including second-degree manslaughter, operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs and evading responsibility.

DESPITE PELLETIER BEING VESTED in his pension for his 11 years of service with the state — two years with the Department of Correction and nine with the state police — state law prevents his widow from collecting it since he wasn’t 55 years old and hadn’t served the state for 25 years. Pelletier was vested in his pension after 10 years.

“For the families of younger state employees who die in the line of duty, this is a glaring gap in our statutes, and one that we will seek to have closed in the next legislative session,” the state police said in a statement.

Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Ronnell A. Higgins and State Police Col. Daniel Loughman refused to comment further and denied requests for interviews.

The union representing the state police also stayed silent and did not return numerous requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Pelletier’s colleagues at Troop H in Hartford launched a GoFundMe page, which has collected $663,147 from hundreds of donors, ranging from $5 to $10,000.

Republican lawmakers and State Comptroller Sean Scanlon said they are already looking at making changes in state law in the next legislative session.

“If Trooper Pelletier had survived that accident and become injured and disabled, he would have a lifetime disability benefit. But for him being killed in the line of duty, there’s no such benefit and that’s a problem I’m hopeful we’ll be able to fix in the future,” Scanlon said in an interview.

The changes in state pension laws were made in 2017 in the midst of the state budget crisis. The changes were approved by lawmakers and the unions.

This is the first time the state has run into this situation.

Pelletier was a part of a retirement plan known as Tier III, which was established in 2011. Changes were made in 2017 to increase the benchmarks for retirement and no exception was made for line of duty deaths.

Senate Republican Leader Stephen Harding said the “families of troopers killed in the line of duty protecting the state of Connecticut should be given all the benefits they deserve.”

“I’d be in absolute full support of changing that statute,” Harding said. “Whatever we can do to maximize the benefit to Trooper Pelletier’s family, It would be an honor to send support.”

HOUSE REPUBLICAN LEADER VINCENT J. CANDELORA pointed to the rising risks cops face, saying the state must ensure their families are taken care of when tragedy strikes.

“A lot of towns in our state are caught off guard because on the job deaths are less frequent and we’re starting to see an increase so it’s causing a lot of municipalities and the state itself to examine the benefits to make sure the families are made whole,” Candelora said.

House and Senate Democratic leaders and the governor’s office did not respond for requests for comment Friday.

The family is receiving $100,000 from a new law signed into law last month. The law allows the surviving spouse and children of state or local law enforcement killed in the line of duty a payment of $100,000 and continued health insurance to qualifying survivors for five years.

Pelletier’s family will receive extended health insurance benefits through a separate program established in 2003 for state troopers, according to Scanlon.

The new law for the $100,000 payment was borne out of the deaths of Bristol police officers Alex Hamzy and Dustin DeMonte, who were killed in an ambush on Oct. 12, 2022 after responding to a domestic dispute, and the death of Hartford Police Officer Robert Garten, in a motor vehicle crash on Sept. 6, 2023.

Bristol Mayor Jeffrey Caggiano said the city didn’t have any provisions for line of duty deaths in the city’s pension agreements with the union and changes were made following the officers’ death.

“I’m actually very proud … we wrote the rules as we went. We promoted them to give them a higher pension calculation, we gave them all the sick time, we went the extra mile and actually gave the spouse’s medical benefits until they turn 65,” Caggiano said.

Health insurance for the officers’ children was given to them until they turn 26 years old.
“In some ways it was a tough decision because you set new precedent but it was a completely unprecedented experience for us, very traumatic and just the right thing to do,” Caggiano said.

Caggiano said “shame on them” to state officials who don’t come up with a stop gap measure for the Pelletier family and future families of law enforcement killed in the line of duty.

“In this day and age when the state puts so many restrictions on police officers, it’s so hard for municipalities to recruit and retain police officers, when a tragic, unfortunate accident like this happens, you got to take care of the family,” Caggiano said.

There has been an increase in line of duty deaths for police officers in recent years, according to FBI statistics released last month.

From 2021 to 2023, 194 police officers were killed across the country. That is the highest number in a consecutive three-year period in the past 20 years.

In 2023, there were 60 officers killed, 61 in 2022 and 73 in 2021.