Lawyer: Gun Threat, Danger To Partner Forced Him To Fire
May 11, 2005
By MATT BURGARD, Courant Staff Writer
An attorney for Hartford
police Officer Robert Lawlor said Tuesday that his client used "reasonable
and necessary force" when he opened fire on two city men
who were suspected of carrying a gun in a car Saturday night.
One of the men was killed and the other was wounded.
Michael Georgetti, a Hartford attorney representing Lawlor through
the Hartford police union, said Lawlor opened fire after he saw
one of the men put the car into gear and drive directly toward
his partner, federal agent Dan Prather. At the same time, Georgetti
said, Lawlor noticed that the passenger had reached down in front
of the seat and pulled up what the officer believed to be a handgun.
"He was facing two threats at that moment," Georgetti
said. "The car heading for the ... agent and the gun in
Standing a few feet away from the passenger side of the moving
car, Lawlor shot four or five times, Georgetti said, striking
passenger Jashon Bryant, 18, of Hartford, at least once in the
back of the head and driver Brandon Henry, 21, of Hartford, once
in the chest.
Bryant died almost instantly, but Henry managed to continue
driving almost three blocks from the parking lot where the incident
began, police said.
Henry eventually came to a stop near the corner of Nelson and
Clark streets in the city's North End, and ran another block
to Elmer Street before pursuing police officers found him hiding
under a porch, according to police accounts.
Henry has been released from the hospital and was booked on
various motor vehicle charges as well as a charge of illegal
drug possession connected to some unspecified drugs found in
the Nissan Maxima, police said.
Police did not find a gun in the car, however, and many community
leaders and residents have raised the issue of whether Lawlor
overreacted when he opened fire. Some have pointed out that Bryant
was shot in the back of the head and that Prather, an agent with
the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
who recently was assigned to work with Lawlor on a newly formed
anti-gun task force in Hartford, did not fire his gun.
Bryant's father, Keith Thomas, expressed outrage when he learned
Tuesday that Lawlor was defending his decision to fire. Thomas
said his son died needlessly.
"He was shot in the back of the head. How much of a threat
could he be?" Thomas asked. "And if the [federal] agent
was about to be run over, why didn't he fire his gun? And why
didn't they find a gun in the car? Tell Officer Lawlor to call
me, and see if he can defend himself. My son is dead."
But Georgetti, whose client has been placed on administrative
leave pending the outcome of a department investigation into
the shootings, said Lawlor is a veteran street officer who made
a proper decision to use deadly force after the two men in the
car failed to comply with the officers' orders. The investigation
by Hartford police is being supervised by Hartford State's Attorney
Georgetti said the incident began about 7:30 p.m. Saturday when
Lawlor and Prather, who were watching the Maxima, noticed Bryant
standing and holding a gun outside the car in a parking lot next
to a convenience store on North Main Street.
As Lawlor and Prather crossed the street to confront Bryant,
Henry emerged from the convenience store and he and Bryant hopped
in the car, Georgetti said. As Henry started the car, the officers
set up on either side of the vehicle and ordered Henry to turn
the engine off and for both men to show their hands, Georgetti
Henry responded by turning the car off, Georgetti said, but
as the officers approached to look inside of it, he turned the
engine back on. At that point, Georgetti said, Prather had moved
toward the front of the car and Henry began driving toward him.
At the same time, Georgetti said, Lawlor noticed Bryant bringing
up what the officer believed was a gun from in front of the passenger
seat, prompting his decision to open fire.
Georgetti said Lawlor believes the gun was tossed from the vehicle
as Henry drove away from the officers. Georgetti said police
have received reports from at least one resident that a gun was
seen being thrown from the car, and a search for the weapon is
continuing in the area of Nelson Street.
Georgetti added that Bryant was arrested last year in Manchester
on a charge of second-degree robbery with a firearm, though the
court file in that case has been sealed. He said Henry, who remained
in custody Tuesday night, also has a record of assault and failure
to appear in court charges.
"Although the entire community feels sorrow and grief for
the families of these victims, these two individuals were not
unknown to the criminal justice system," Georgetti said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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