Officer Involved In Chase Testifies In Lawlor Trial
November 11, 2009
HARTFORD — - Det. William Rivera was in hot pursuit of a black Nissan Maxima that had just been involved in a "shots fired" call on May 7, 2005, in the city's North End when a voice came over his police radio.
"Billy, be careful. Eighty-threes in the car."
The voice was that of Robert Lawlor, a Hartford police detective now facing manslaughter charges for allegedly firing his weapon into the black Maxima, killing 18-year-old Jashon Bryant and wounding the driver, Brandon Henry, who sped off in the car. A signal 83 is the Hartford Police Department's code for a firearm.
Lawlor was working with Daniel Prather, an agent from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, when he said he saw Bryant holding a gun as Bryant got into a friend's car, authorities said. The officers approached the car, and when the vehicle began moving, Lawlor fired his weapon, according to court records.
Police never found a weapon and an investigatory grand jury recommended that charges be brought against Lawlor, a member of the Hartford force for 18 years. Lawlor was charged with manslaughter and assault. The charges carry a maximum punishment of 40 years in prison if Lawlor, 45, is convicted.
Prosecutors used Lawlor's own words as evidence during testimony in his trial Tuesday in Superior Court. Dramatic audiotapes, featuring a nearly breathless Rivera screaming for radio air time as he pursued the fleeing Maxima, took jurors back to the evening of the deadly shooting.
"Hey, we got shots fired ... we're following a Nissan. Give me the air," Rivera is heard yelling on the radio.
Lawlor later can be heard asking Rivera, "Did I hit anybody that tried to just kill me and this guy?"
"Yeah, ya hit somebody bro. I'll let you know in a second," Rivera replied.
"Is he dead?" Lawlor asked.
"I'll let you know in a second," Rivera replied.
Rivera testified Tuesday that on the day of the shooting, Lawlor and Prather were teamed up as part of an anti-gun task force in search of a drug-dealing gunman who had opened fire on police in an earlier incident.
At one point during the surveillance, Rivera said he heard the "shots fired" report. It was the first mention made of a firearm during the police operation, Rivera said.
"Did you hear anything about 83s in the car leading up to the incident?" prosecutor Kevin Doyle asked.
"No," Rivera replied.
If there was a gun, Rivera said, a police officer would likely "yell out, 'Gun!'" so his partner would know to be careful.
"Would you expect an experienced officer in the North End to have that kind of a reaction to a gun?" Doyle asked Rivera.
"Yes," he replied.
Rivera said he attempted to head to the location of the shooting when the black Maxima sped past him. Rivera did a U-turn and followed the Maxima until it crashed into another vehicle.
Henry, wounded, jumped out of the car and fled on foot, managing to scale two 6-foot chain-link fences and eluding Rivera and other officers until a police dog found him hiding underneath a porch.
Rivera told jurors that during the foot chase, he saw Henry reach for his waistband, an act, Rivera said, that might mean a person is armed. Rivera also said he saw Henry during the vehicle pursuit "reaching for the floor" of the passenger side of the Maxima where Bryant lay wounded.
Throughout both pursuits, Rivera said he never saw Henry hold a weapon or discard one.
If that was the case, Lawlor's attorney, Michael A. Georgetti, asked Rivera during cross-examination, why then did he and other officers conduct at least two searches throughout the neighborhood for a weapon?
"Because you still have to check," Rivera replied.
"It's because it may have been thrown out and you may have missed it," Georgetti said.
"There's always a possibility," Rivera said.
Georgetti also questioned the thoroughness of the search for the weapon, questioning Rivera about whether storm drains were searched and if crime scene tape that keeps the public away from potential evidence was used at locations other than the shooting and crash scenes.
"Do you recall any other taped-off areas?" Georgetti asked.
"No," Rivera replied.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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