June 3, 2006
By MATT BURGARD, Courant Staff Writer
The lawyer for Hartford police Officer Robert Lawlor has written a scathing rebuttal to a report released last month that concluded Lawlor was not justified in shooting and killing a teenager last year and should face criminal charges in the incident.
Lawlor's attorney, Michael Georgetti, wrote the rebuttal in response to a report prepared by Waterbury State's Attorney John Connelly, who oversaw a grand jury investigation into the May 7, 2005, shooting in the city's North End.
Connelly's findings, released last month, concluded that Lawlor wrongfully shot and killed 18-year-old Jashon Bryant in a confrontation in a convenience store parking lot, even though Lawlor said he believed Bryant had a gun.
Georgetti's rebuttal includes a letter to Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano, which accuses Connelly of ignoring substantial evidence suggesting that Lawlor was justified in the shooting. Georgetti also demands Morano order Connelly to conduct a new investigation.
Georgetti says that Lawlor "acted without malice and reasonably in accordance with the available information. ... He had to react instantaneously and his 18 years of experience and training took over."
Morano said he has received Georgetti's rebuttal and has forwarded it to New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington, who is reviewing Connelly's report and the findings of the grand jury to decide whether Lawlor should be arrested. Dearington declined to comment on the specifics of his review, saying only that it is still weeks from being completed.
Yet in a stern letter sent to Georgetti Wednesday, Connelly defended his report and accused Georgetti of relying on incorrect information to try to undermine his findings. Connelly said he made every effort to give Lawlor the "benefit of the doubt" in the investigation.
"I find it hard to believe that an experienced attorney would make such irresponsible statements," Connelly said.
Lawlor continues to work for the police department in an administrative capacity, pending the outcome of Dearington's review.
Calling Connelly's report "factually and legally incorrect," Georgetti in his rebuttal identifies several areas in which he claims Connelly either ignored or downplayed key evidence that might have led to a finding that the shooting was justified.
Lawlor was working as part of a plainclothes, anti-gun task force, and has said he believed he saw Bryant handling a gun beside a parked car at Main and Sanford streets, according to Connelly's report. As he crossed the street, Lawlor claimed, Bryant got into the passenger seat of the car while his friend, Brandon Henry, got into the driver's seat.
At the time, Lawlor was working with an agent from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who also crossed the street with Lawlor but later said he never saw a gun, according to Connelly's report. As the officers stood by the car, Henry put the car in gear and drove forward.
Lawlor responded by firing five shots, two of which struck Bryant in the head, killing him instantly, and two which struck Henry, who recovered, the report says. Lawlor later said he thought he saw Bryant reaching for a gun as the car lurched forward, but no gun was found.
Connelly cited several reasons for finding that Lawlor was not justified in firing at Bryant and concluding that the officer should be charged with manslaughter and assault.
Among other things, Connelly cited the testimony of the ATF agent in which the agent said he never saw a gun and never considered himself in danger during the incident. Connelly also pointed to forensic analysis which showed that, besides being shot in the head, Bryant also was shot on the tip of one of his thumbs, suggesting that his hands were in plain view and were likely being raised as a defensive gesture.
In his rebuttal, Georgetti says the agent was a rookie with less than six months on the job and, under ATF policy, should not have been allowed to be partnered on an assignment with someone from another agency. Georgetti also says the agent never saw a gun because he was on his cellphone seeking backup from other officers and was looking at the street signs on the corner to provide his location.
Georgetti also says the agent had his gun drawn and pointed at the car as the officers approached.
"He clearly was worried for his own safety," the rebuttal says.
About never finding a gun, Georgetti says Henry had plenty of opportunity to toss the gun from the car as he drove away. He adds that Henry, after crashing the car, ran away and eluded officers for almost an hour before he was found hiding under a porch stoop.
Georgetti also disputes Connelly's conclusions about the injury to the tip of Bryant's thumb, saying the wound was more likely caused when Henry crashed the car.
Finally, Georgetti says an initial investigation into the shooting, conducted by Hartford police, concluded that Lawlor was justified in firing his weapon. But the Hartford police probe came to an end when Connelly was asked to take over the investigation by Hartford State's Attorney James Thomas, who hoped to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Connelly, however, said Georgetti made several false statements in the rebuttal. In particular, he said the grand jury testimony clearly shows that the ATF agent never suspected Bryant of having a gun. He also said that Henry managed to elude authorities for only about 20 minutes, as opposed to the hour claimed by Georgetti.
And Connelly insisted that all of the forensics experts agreed that Bryant's thumb wound was caused by gunfire.
"Anyone who looks at this incident objectively would come to the same conclusion," Connelly said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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