Branford is facing a lawsuit alleging its police department failed to take appropriate steps to prevent the shooting death of a young woman at the hands of her ex-boyfriend.
The town is named as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by Angela Ashworth, along with SVMC Holdings, Inc., which owns St. Vincent’s Medical Center (SVMC)in Westport, and Christopher Donlin, the administrator of Michael Mollow’s estate. Mollow shot and killed Caroline Ashworth, Angela Ashworth’s daughter, on August 27, 2022, before shooting himself. The incident was ruled a murder-suicide by local police.
According to Angela Ashworth’s lawsuit, which was filed in Hartford Superior Court on October 17, Mollow and Caroline Ashworth met in late 2019 or early 2020 and began a relationship. At the time, Caroline was approximately 18-years-old and Mollow was 57-years-old and married.
The lawsuit claims Mollow initially supported Caroline financially by paying for her rent and cell phone, which was tied to Mollow’s business account. But as the relationship progressed, Mollow allegedly ceased paying Caroline’s rent, which resulted in her moving in with him and began controlling her ability to communicate with others through the phone.
Mollow also allegedly convinced Caroline to use her car as a trade-in towards the purchase of a new truck, which the couple would co-own but then took title of the truck in his name only. According to the lawsuit, Mollow also installed a GPS tracker in the truck without Caroline’s knowledge and used it to track her location.
Per the lawsuit, “During the approximate 3 year relationship between Caroline and Mollow, Mollow increased his coercive control over Caroline by engaging in a pattern of behavior that in purpose or effect unreasonably interfered with Caroline’s free will and personal liberty.”
The lawsuit details several incidents involving police leading up to Mollow checking into a mental health facility over fear he would harm Caroline.
On August 9, 2022, Caroline called 911 fearing Mollow was going to assault her. The town police made a service call and were informed by Caroline that she feared for her life, that Mollow had previously assaulted her, and that he had threatened to shoot her in the head. Mollow told a second police officer that he was upset with Caroline because she had been socializing with other men and had confronted her, and also that he had unsecured firearms in the house they shared.
A second 911 call was made on August 14, 2022. This time Mollow allegedly admitted that he was using GPS to track Caroline and was upset about where she had been and who she had been with the previous evening and that there had been a physical confrontation. Caroline told police that Mollow was displaying “increasingly controlling behavior.”
On August 15, 2022, Mollow reported to police that Caroline stole his truck. She reportedly moved out of Mollow’s home the following week and took the truck to Alabama to visit her grandmother.
On August 23, 2022, Mollow allegedly became so emotionally distraught over her departure that he checked himself into Midstate Medical Center’s emergency department for depression and “with homicidal ideations directed specifically against Caroline.”
According to the lawsuit, Mollow told medical staff that Caroline had ended the relationship, that he was “totally obsessed with her” and had homicidal thoughts, that he owned guns, was suffering from sleep disturbances and had used alcohol and nonprescription Xanax, and that he did not feel safe outside of the hospital. He also stated he was afraid he would hurt Caroline if she returned.
Midstate staff admitted Mollow under a 15-day involuntary physician’s emergency certificate and contacted Branford police under the duty to warn.
The lawsuit alleges that Lieutenant Ramey, the day shift commander when the call came in on August 23, did not take appropriate follow-up steps after receiving the call to ensure Carlone was not harmed.
According to the lawsuit, Ramey recognized Mollow and Caroline’s names from the prior 911 calls and accessed a law enforcement database where records from the calls were stored. He allegedly assigned Officer Robert Iovanna to investigate the report and informed Iovanna that Mollow was admitted to Midstate with homicidal thoughts toward Caroline. Ramey also directed Iovanna to call the hospital staff, Caroline, and Mollow’s ex-wife, who transported him to the hospital.
Iovanna contacted the hospital, which repeated information it had already provided to Ramey about Mollow’s state, possession of firearms, and Caroline’s location.
But the lawsuit alleges that Iovanna did not further investigate whether Mollow had weapons or any outstanding warrants or protective orders. It also alleges that Iovanna did not check for any prior police department interaction with Mollow aside from the reports from the two 911 calls he was provided.
The lawsuit also claims Iovanna did not attempt to seize Mollow’s weapons because Mollow was hospitalized and Caroline was out of state. However, the lawsuit claims he could not confirm Caroline’s location because he did not reach her by phone.
On August 23, 2022, the same day Iovanna was assigned the case, he wrote a report closing the investigation and placing it on “inactive status.” Sergeant Konesky, a supervisor, also allegedly reviewed and approved its contents.
Per the lawsuit, the report was written as a supplemental report to a family dispute, requiring family violence protocols to be followed, but the “inactive status” assigned to the report meant no officer follow-up would be required. The lawsuit also alleges the report noted Mollow was afraid he would hurt Caroline but did not mention homicidal intentions or that Mollow owned firearms. As a result, Konesky was unaware of these facts during his review.
Mollow was transferred to St. Vincent’s psychiatry unit where his status remained as involuntary. The lawsuit alleges that the St. Vincent’s staff also failed to adequately take precautions. According to the lawsuit, Mollow repeated his thoughts of harm to St. Vincent’s staff while he was admitted. He was discharged 44 hours later, on August 26, under a discharge plan to follow up with his primary care physician for medication management and to attend an appointment with a social worker five days later.
According to the lawsuit, he was released under his own care without any supervision. The following day, Mollow allegedly stalked Caroline and confronted her in the parking lot of a condominium complex in Wethersfield where he shot her and then himself.
The lawsuit notes that the Branford police conducted an internal investigation around August 29 which resulted in disciplinary actions against Iovanna and Konesky.
Per the lawsuit, Angela Ashworth presented a claim of wrongful death to Donlin, the administrator of Mollow’s estate, which was rejected because of a failure to respond.
Ashworth filed a notice of intent to sue Branford for “negligent acts and omissions of is employees, officers and agents” in Caroline’s wrongful death on February 15, 2023.
The lawsuit alleges the town is responsible for Caroline’s death because its employees failed to properly intervene and “break the cycle of coercive control Mollow was exerting over Caroline” and by failing to make arrests despite the reported domestic disturbances. It also lists Iovanna’s failures to properly follow up on the duty to warn call.
Ashworth is also claiming SVMC is responsible for Caroline’s death by prematurely discharging Mollow when he was willing to remain in treatment, failing to perform an adequate risk assessment, and failing to determine how Mollow would act upon discharge if he saw Caroline again, among other things.
The lawsuit’s third count is directed against Donlin.
Ashworth is seeking damages in excess of $15,000.
As evidence of the claims, the lawsuit includes a review of the case conducted by a psychiatrist, whose name is redacted. Their findings assert with “reasonable medical certainty/probability” that St. Vincent’s deviated from a responsible psychiatric standard of care in treating Mollow, which resulted in Caroline’s death.
“For reasons that are difficult to fathom, the discharging physician did not review available information, did not contact available collateral sources, did not treat Michael Mollow in any evidence based fashion, did not dictate an internally coherent discharge note and prematurely discharged Michael Mollow.” the review of evidence concludes.