Relatives, Friends Of Slain Teenager Lash Out At City Police Officer
July 6, 2006
By MATT BURGARD, Courant Staff Writer
A tense confrontation unfolded outside Superior Court in Hartford Wednesday as Hartford police Officer Robert Lawlor, facing criminal charges in the fatal shooting of a teenager, found himself staring into the face of the boy's father.
"Why are you smiling? You have something you want to say to me?" Keith Thomas said.
Lawlor, caught by surprise, said nothing as Thomas' voice began to rise.
"You wanna talk to me? You killed my son, what do you got to say to me?" Thomas said, lunging toward Lawlor.
Several of Thomas' family members moved in to restrain him, including a woman who was knocked to the ground. Lawlor continued walking with his lawyer toward the courthouse entrance as more than a dozen Hartford officers - some to provide security, others to show support - began pulling up in cruisers.
"I understand emotions are running high," Lawlor's attorney, Michael Georgetti, said, "but violence is not an acceptable way to express your grief."
The scene underscored the tension between the police department and some of the city's neighborhoods. Lawlor is white; 18-year-old Jashon Bryant was black. Bryant's family members have said race was a factor in the shooting - an allegation that Lawlor has denied vehemently.
Bryant was killed in a confrontation with Lawlor and another officer in a convenience store parking lot last year. Lawlor has said he saw Bryant reaching for a gun, but no gun was ever found, and last month a prosecutor determined that Lawlor should face criminal charges in the shooting.
An 18-year veteran of the force, Lawlor showed up Wednesday for his first court appearance on charges of first-degree manslaughter and first-degree assault. Wearing a dark suit, he avoided eye contact and kept silent as Thomas and several other relatives of Bryant moved toward him at the courthouse entrance.
The crowd of roughly 30 family members and friends of Bryant wore T-shirts and headbands displaying Bryant's picture. Many wore a shirt that read: first-degree manslaughter plus first-degree assault equals Lawlor.
In an interview two months ago, Lawlor said he hoped he could meet with Thomas one day to tell him that he also grieves over the loss of Bryant. But on Wednesday, the officer said nothing as Thomas angrily offered him a chance to speak.
"They should have never given you a gun," Thomas yelled as Lawlor and Georgetti walked around him to get inside the courthouse.
At the same time, about a dozen Hartford officers arrived. The officers stood around Lawlor in the courthouse lobby as Bryant's family members gathered nearby.
Judge Bradford Ward presided over Lawlor's brief courtroom appearance, making no changes to Lawlor's bail and continuing the case to July 25. When the hearing ended, family members streamed outside, some expressing anger that Lawlor was allowed to go free, others calling it the first step toward justice.
"It felt really good to see him standing before a judge," said Cynthia Gordon, another of Bryant's relatives. "It'll feel better seeing him getting convicted and going to jail, which is what he deserves."
But Thomas and several other family members said they were outraged that Lawlor had been able to post a $50,000 bond after his arrest last month, an amount they said was too low for the felony charges he is facing.
"If I go out on the street today and sell some drugs, the cops will give me a bond much higher than $50,000," said David Gaines, a relative of Bryant's. "It just shows you how the system protects its own."
After the appearance, Lawlor emerged from the courthouse surrounded by a phalanx of officers who escorted him for several blocks as Bryant's family members and friends shouted at him. Many family members yelled "murderer!" as Lawlor continued to stare forward without saying anything.
Georgetti said the family members need to find a more constructive way to express their grief. "With all due respect, none of them were there that night," he said. "Bob acted in accordance with federal and state guidelines, and we intend to take this case to trial."
Lawlor declined to comment on the scene outside the courthouse, but Georgetti said he was alarmed by the hostility.
"If not for the presence of other officers outside the building, we would have been at the mercy of a crowd which, in my opinion, was fast becoming a mob," Georgetti said. "I've never seen anything like it."
Lawlor's police escort continued for two blocks until a Hartford police squad car pulled up and Lawlor entered the front passenger seat. The car left as the crowd of Bryant's family members and friends continued to shout their frustration.
"He should be sitting in the back of that car in handcuffs," said Sterling Thomas, a cousin of Bryant's. "But he's a police officer, a white police officer, and that means he gets special treatment."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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