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City Officer Defends Shootings

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 the seat."

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 James Thomas.

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 said.

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. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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