One witness, Stamford police Capt. Richard J. Conklin, testified last December that in the years before the attack on Nash, Travis was widely known in Stamford and not seen as a threat. Herold, who died in 2010, and her husband, who died in 2004, even used to take him to work at their car-towing business.
"Travis the chimpanzee had become somewhat of a local celebrity doing commercials, being seen around the community and interacting with many people, including police officers, emergency personnel and the community," Conklin testified.
Aside from a well-publicized incident in 2003, when the chimp got loose in downtown Stamford, and playfully avoided attempts to capture him for an extended period, Conklin said "he seemed well-behaved."
At Herold's house, "Travis was treated less as a pet, than almost as a child," Conklin said.
Conklin was questioned in his deposition by a lawyer from the state attorney general's office — which opposes Nash's claim, saying that the state and its taxpayers are not responsible for what happened to Nash when she tried to help Herold get Travis back into the house.
But Conklin also recounted the dark turn of events on Feb. 16, 2009.
Testimony: Chimp Unlocked Door
On that day, the chimp escaped from Herold's house when he "took the keys that were on a counter and actually used them to unlock the door of her home and went out onto her property," Conklin said.
Herold then called Nash — a longtime friend whom she employed almost as a "girl Friday," including work as a sometime dispatcher in the towing business — and asked her to come and help her get the chimp under control.
Travis attacked Nash, and Herold made the now-widely known 911 call, which was replayed on newscasts worldwide.
When police arrived, Conklin testified, the rampaging Travis opened the door of a cruiser, and the officer inside pumped four bullets into him "at a very close range." But the chimp ran off "almost as if nothing … took place." The chimp ran to his cage in Herold's house, where he died.
While the Nash legal team is using the testimony of Leone, the environmental official Hinsch, and others to support its claim that state officials failed in their legal duty to remove a dangerous animal from the residential setting, the office of state Attorney General George Jepsen has obtained testimony that Travis had harmed no one before the attack on Nash.
Vance, as claims commissioner, must decide whether to waive the state's "sovereign immunity" from most litigation. Would-be plaintiffs such as Nash must request his permission before they can sue the state in Superior Court. Nash's lawyers have asked for that permission, and Friday's hearing is on a request by Jepsen's office for Vance to deny the request.
The hearing is at 10 a.m. in the largest hearing room of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Room 2C.
Although Nash plans to be there, the witnesses quoted in the depositions are not necessarily expected to attend. This proceeding is for the lawyers, who will make arguments based on the statutes. The attorney general's office has filed a motion for Vance to dismiss Nash's claim immediately — without the normal trial-like hearing, which would probably last several days.
Possible Next Steps
If Vance decides not to grant the state's motion, then a full hearing would be scheduled in coming months. At that hearing, evidence would be submitted and witnesses would testify — and then Vance would make his ruling on whether Nash gets to file her lawsuit against the state.
If Vance grants the state's motion to dismiss the claim — or, even if he denies the state's motion now but denies the claim after a full hearing months from now — Nash and her lawyers have a recourse: They can appeal to the state legislature. The legislative judiciary committee would first handle such an appeal, but for it to succeed, the full legislature would have to approve a special act granting Nash her day in court.
Newman and Charles Willinger, the two lawyers primarily in charge of handling Nash's case, say that the attorney general's arguments against the claim should be decided by a court, not a politically appointed (by the governor) claims commissioner.
Willinger has said that the state DEP — now called the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — had successfully pushed for the legislature to remove a "grandfather clause" in a regulatory statute that had exempted Herold from needing to obtain a permit to own Travis.