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In The Nine Months Before He Killed Ciara McDermott, The Pressure Built On Victor Diaz

Victor Diaz's Actions Fit A Self-destructive Pattern Social Scientists Have Long Recognized Among Law Enforcement Officers

By DAVE ALTIMARI

The Hartford Courant

January 8, 2006

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After his arrest for drunken driving in March, Victor Diaz sat in a room at the Institute of Living psychiatric treatment facility three times a week and told a bunch of strangers how angry he was at himself for the way he was treating his girlfriend, Ciara McDermott.

"The love he had for her was obvious - that's all he talked about," said Arthurine Lattimore, a Hartford pastor who was one of about 14 people in the counseling sessions Diaz attended in March and April.

Lattimore said Diaz often talked about the arguments he had with McDermott.

"He was not happy with himself for the way he was treating her," Lattimore said, adding many times Diaz ominously said "something bad is going to happen."

Diaz did not mention McDermott's name often in the sessions, usually referring to her as his girlfriend, but Lattimore said she got a knot in her stomach when she turned on the radio on the morning of Nov. 22 and heard that a state trooper had killed his ex-girlfriend.

"I didn't even have to hear the names and I knew it was Victor," she said. "I had never met him before and never saw him again after those sessions but I could tell he was a tortured soul."

What made Victor Diaz lie in wait for several hours for Newington police Officer McDermott to return to her West Hartford house and kill her may never be fully known.

But an examination of court records and interviews with Diaz's friends and state police authorities shows that the Persian Gulf War veteran's downward spiral began with the March drunken-driving arrest in Cromwell.

Over the next nine months, Diaz underwent counseling at the institute; the mother of his child sought to limit his visitation rights and gain more child support; and he lost his girlfriend - McDermott moved out of the Middletown condominium they had been sharing.

In the days before the shooting, Diaz learned he was about to be arrested by West Hartford police for illegally using a state police computer to identify the owner of a car parked in McDermott's driveway. He also learned he would be the subject of a second state police internal affairs investigation - one that probably would cost him the job he loved.

West Hartford police are still investigating the murder/suicide and are expected to release a final report early this week. Sources said the investigation has been delayed to obtain Diaz's cellphone records, in an effort to determine whom he called before the slaying, and to get a toxicology report from the state medical examiner's office.

And state police are reviewing their actions involving Diaz since his DUI arrest, state Public Safety Commissioner Leonard Boyle said.

Among those actions was returning the weapon Diaz ultimately used to kill McDermott to his brother, Edwin Diaz. State police had confiscated Victor Diaz's .40-caliber Glock - a private gun, and not his police-issued weapon - after he was arrested in Cromwell. They kept it until his criminal case ended in July, then on July 7 signed the gun over to Edwin Diaz, who happened to be living with Victor at the time.

Boyle said that because Victor Diaz was a police officer he did not need a permit for the off-duty gun, but that once he was arrested he no longer had police powers and therefore could not keep it without a permit. Although the criminal case had concluded by July 7, Diaz was still on administrative duty.

Boyle said it was likely state police were unaware that Victor Diaz, who had a gun permit, was living with his brother.

"We have to look back and see if we could have done some things better," Boyle said. "We're concerned about the stress level of troopers. We have an early intervention program in place and we are in the process of reviewing it. We're going to improve the program to include a more robust counseling portion to it to make sure that troopers get the help they need."

After Diaz was arrested in Cromwell, Karen Roche, the mother of his 5-year-old daughter, went back to Superior Court in Hartford to change his visitation rights and to seek more money, records show.

Diaz had been paying $100 a week in child support since acknowledging the child was his in February 2000. As of July 2004 he also had almost joint custody of the child, keeping her from Wednesday night to Saturday night. But Roche's action made it likely that that was going to change.

While some people who knew Diaz said he was concerned about losing access to his daughter, Roche's attorney, David Mester, said the changes had more to do with school schedules than anything else.

"Karen recognized from the very beginning that Victor and [the child] were very close and she always acknowledged that," Mester said.

Mester said both Roche and the child, who "clearly loved her dad," are having a hard time dealing with Diaz's death. He said Diaz last saw his daughter on the weekend before the homicide.

Sources said Diaz attended the counseling sessions at the institute as a pre-emptive strike to help resolve his drunken-driving case more quickly. It apparently helped: He received accelerated rehabilitation, a special form of probation, in April from a Superior Court judge in Middletown.

Lattimore said Diaz attended the institute sessions three times a week for nearly two months, from mid-March through the end of April. Lattimore said Diaz complained constantly that the anti-depressants he took didn't allow him to sleep. She said Diaz talked about the problems with his girlfriend and his drinking, but rarely mentioned his daughter or that he was a gulf war veteran, even though other Army personnel were present at the sessions.

Institute officials would not comment on whether Diaz attended counseling there. Boyle said state police officials had no idea Diaz attended counseling at the facility.

Diaz, 37, became a state trooper in January 1998 after spending three years as a state correction officer. He was a 1987 graduate of Hall High School in West Hartford, where he excelled in football and was known as a good student.

Not long after completing high school, Diaz joined the Army and fought in the gulf war. He returned to his family's Hartford home and became a correction officer.

McDermott, 30, followed in the footsteps of her father, Peter, a police officer for more than 25 years in West Hartford and Windsor. She joined the Newington Police Department eight years ago and was appointed to the town's youth adult council, groomed as a crisis negotiator and, ultimately, became the youth officer at Newington High School.

Her death hit current and former students at the high school particularly hard. Many attended her funeral; others wrote eulogies on a website established by McDermott's family in her memory.

"Officer McDermott was the most compassionate woman I have ever known," one former student wrote. "I'm a 2003 graduate from Newington High School. If it wasn't for her I would have never made it out of school.

"She wrote me a quote in my high school yearbook: `We are about as happy as we make up our minds to be.' I keep it in a picture frame which is always right next to me."

It's unclear how and when Diaz and McDermott met, or how long they dated. Many friends contacted by The Courant were reluctant to share those details so soon after the tragedy.

At some point, they were living together in a Middletown condominium, and then in May 2005 she bought the Ridgewood road home in West Hartford. It's unclear if her plans to buy a house developed after Diaz's arrest in Cromwell or if they had originally planned to buy the house together.

About three weeks before the murder, Diaz noticed a new car sitting in McDermott's driveway. He called a state police employee at Troop H to look up the license plate on the car, an illegal action. He discovered that the car belonged to James DeLuca, a West Hartford police officer.

Diaz began making harassing phone calls to McDermott, who originally filed harassment charges against him with West Hartford police, but later decided not to pursue them.

The criminal investigation continued, because of the computer-use issue, but why she did not want to go forward with the other charges is another mystery.

Diaz found out five days before the shootings that West Hartford police had a warrant for his arrest. It could not have been much of a surprise, as sources said he admitted to West Hartford detectives he had accessed DeLuca's license plate through a state police computer.

At nearly the same time, Diaz received a letter from the state police indicating he was going to be the subject of another internal affairs investigation for misusing the computer. Because he was already serving a 60-day suspension as a result of the drunken-driving arrest, Diaz probably suspected the new probe would end his state police career, a fact that acquaintances said would have devastated him more than being arrested.

"He was looking at losing his daughter, losing his job and losing his girlfriend. There was a lot of pressure bearing down on him," another friend said.

Sources said police originally wanted Diaz to turn himself in on Nov. 18, a Friday afternoon, but because his attorney, Jeffrey Ment, was involved in a trial in Waterbury and couldn't make it back to West Hartford in time, an agreement was reached to have Diaz come to police headquarters at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 21.

Diaz instead drove his car to Wolcott Park, far enough from McDermott's home that she would not notice he was there when she came home from work. He then walked to her home, entered it and logged on to her computer sometime around 1 p.m. Then he went upstairs to a second-floor bedroom and waited.

When McDermott came home about three hours later, she grabbed her laptop, but before she could finish logging on Diaz shot her three times in the head and chest with the Glock state police had returned to his brother. He then made at least three phone calls from inside her house, including one to Ment indicating he would not be showing up at police headquarters to turn himself in.

Then he went back upstairs and shot himself once in the head.

Many of McDermott's friends have been trying to figure out why the tragedy happened and how the relationship spiraled to such a violent end, claiming the lives of two police officers in their primes.

"There is something to be loved in all of us and Ciara saw what that was in Vic," a friend said. "No one should ever underestimate the pain of others and that sometimes love isn't enough in a relationship, yet sometimes it is too much."