On the cold rainy evening of November 20, 1998, at approximately 5 P.M., Conservation Officer James Spignesi and Conservation Officer Anthony Rose were on patrol in the town of Scotland in Eastern Connecticut. Officer Spignesi observed a vehicle parked in a field near a wooded area where there had been previous complaints about illegal deer hunting. The hours for deer hunting ended at 4:27 P.M.
Officers Spignesi and Rose parked their patrol vehicle and entered the field to search for a possible illegal hunter. While walking through the field, a single shot from a rifle was fired and struck Officer Spignesi in the chest—killing him. Officer Rose immediately apprehended the suspect and began an attempt to provide first aid for Officer Spignesi, but Officer Spignesi was pronounced dead a short time later at a nearby hospital.
It was how he lived that made him a “hero”
To quote from survivor Vivian Eney in a thought that is inscribed on the wall of the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes. It is how they lived.” There could be no more fitting description of Jim Spignesi’s life.
Jim graduated from the University of Connecticut with a BS in Natural Resource Conservation in 1975 and began his career with the DEP as a Wildlife Biologist. Jim’s work focused on the white-tailed deer program, functioning as the program’s leader until 1990 when he left to become a Conservation Officer.
As a Conservation Officer, Jim’s record was filled with letters of appreciation from the public and his supervisors. One such letter really showed what type of officer Jim really was. In September 1997, Officer Spignesi and Sgt. Lewis located a vehicle parked in an area where there had been previous reports of illegal hunting. Officer Spignesi returned to the area after dark to discover the same vehicle in the driveway of an elderly couple. Officer Spignesi had ascertained that the occupants of the vehicle had been fishing in the woods and had parked in the driveway to have a snack. By determining that the occupants had no ill intentions, Officer Spignesi provided much relief to an elderly homeowner that had been quite startled by having these strangers in his driveway.
In August 1998, Officer Spignesi was awarded the DEP Medal for Meritorious Service for the safe return of a runaway youth who was reported to be distraught and had threatened suicide in the Nachaug Forest. Jim located the youth hiding in a thicket of mountain laurel and returned him to his family without incident.
In April 1999, Officer Spignesi was awarded the Officer of the Year award from the Conservation Law Enforcement Chiefs Association.
In May 1999, Officer Spignesi’s name was placed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and Vice President Albert Gore presented the Medal of Valor to Officer Spignesi’s family at a ceremony on the West Lawn of the Capitol honoring officers who have fallen in the line of duty.
In May 1999, Officer Spignesi’s name was inscribed on the Connecticut Law Enforcement Memorial in Meriden.
Spignesi Memorial Fund Established
A Scholarship fund was established by a committee of Spignesi’s friends, family and coworkers to provide a scholarship to a University of Connecticut upperclassman who aspires to a career in wildlife management or conservation law enforcement.
Donations may be made by check payable to James V. Spignesi Jr. Memorial Fund, and sent to: James V. Spignesi Jr. Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 156, Hampton, CT 06247.
Special Thanks to Conservation Officer Judi Kopacz for her assistance in developing this page.