May 24, 2006
By MATT BURGARD, Courant Staff Writer
Every day, Hartford police Officer Robert Lawlor says, he pictures himself standing at the corner of Main and Sanford streets in the city's North End, and replays the events that led him to shoot and kill a teenager more than a year ago.
"I'm still frozen on that street corner," the 18-year police veteran said during an interview Tuesday, the first he has given since the shooting.
"My mind keeps racing to this one particular moment, and I can't get past it. The one thing I can say is, unless you've been through something like this, you have no idea how devastating it is."
Lawlor, 42, is facing possible criminal charges in the shooting death of Jashon Bryant, 18, who was killed after Lawlor fired five shots into the car Bryant was riding in the night of May 7, 2005. Lawlor has said he thought he saw Bryant reaching for a gun.
But, after a grand jury probe, a state prosecutor last week concluded that the shooting was not justified and recommended that Lawlor be charged with manslaughter and assault in connection with the shooting. Despite an extensive search, no gun was ever found.
Another prosecutor is now reviewing the report to determine if Lawlor should be arrested, and members of Bryant's family, along with Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez, have insisted that he be charged as soon as possible.
Lawlor, speaking Tuesday at his lawyer's office, declined to discuss specific details of the shooting.
But he spoke at length about the toll it has taken on him, both personally and professionally. He said he hopes his comments will help members of Bryant's family understand that he grieves their loss, and maybe help heal the rift between the police department and many of the city's neighborhoods.
Lawlor, who was involved in a police shooting in 1990 in which a 15-year-old boy was wounded, said the events of the past year have been like a bad dream. "It was a ... perfect storm and a life-altering experience," Lawlor said. "It's absolutely consumed my life."
Lawlor, who has served on many specialized task forces and has a reputation as an aggressive street cop, said nothing in his career has affected him so profoundly.
"In my 18 years on the job, I have been stabbed, beaten up and I've had guns pulled on me on almost a daily basis," he said. "But the incident on May 7, 2005, just changed everything. It was like the straw that broke the camel's back."
Lawlor said he has undergone extensive psychotherapy to help him cope with the aftershocks of the incident, adding that he is still taking antidepressants and other medications to help him function every day.
Lawlor and his partner, an agent from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, were working a special task force to get guns off the streets the night of the shooting.
He said he dimly remembers going to the hospital in the minutes after he fired shots at both Bryant, who was sitting in the passenger seat of the car, and Brandon Henry, who was driving. Lawlor said he was told that Bryant had been killed by his gunfire.
"Ever since, it's been unbelievable. Nightmares every night, the shakes. I've been a wreck," he said.
Lawlor has been working at a desk job since the shooting, and three weeks ago, he said, he told Hartford Police Chief Patrick Harnett that he never again wants to work as a street cop.
Instead, he said, he plans to remain on the job for at least two years reviewing computer reports prepared by patrol officers to help identify crime trends.
"I'm too scarred emotionally to ever go through anything like that again," he said. "I'm worn out."
Lawlor, a father of four girls, said he would welcome a chance to meet with members of Bryant's family to help bring closure both for them and himself. "I would absolutely meet with Jashon's father," he said. "I would like to tell them how much I regret never having a chance to know Jashon as a person, to know all the good things in his life. As a cop, all we ever get to see are the bad things."
Bryant's father, Keith Thomas, reached later Tuesday by telephone, said he would welcome a chance to meet with Lawlor.
"I'd just like to hear what he has to say about what he did," Thomas said. "I don't know what I would say to him at this point. I'd have to see how it goes."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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