Welcome Federal Inquiry Into City Shootings
Prosecutor To Consider Independent Investigation
June 2, 2005
By MATT BURGARD, Courant Staff Writer
The families of two Hartford men who were shot by a Hartford
police officer last month are pleased that a federal prosecutor
in Washington, D.C., has been assigned to look into whether
an independent, federal investigation of the shooting should
be conducted, attorneys for both families said Wednesday.
Attorney Jefferson Jelly, who is representing the family of
Jashon Bryant, the 18-year-old city man who was shot and killed
in the May 7 incident in the city's North End, said Bryant's
family, along with many other residents, are highly skeptical
of the Hartford Police Department's ability to investigate the
shooting fairly and aggressively.
"The credibility of the police department at this point
is negligible," Jelly said. "The family is not confident
that this investigation, as it's being done now, will be impartial
He and attorney A. Paul Spinella, who is representing the family
of Brandon Henry, the 20-year-old man whose gunshot wound to
the chest was not fatal, were encouraged when Kevin J. O'Connor,
the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, informed them that he has
referred their request for a federal investigation to Jessica
Ginsburg, deputy chief of the criminal section of the civil rights
division in the U.S. Department of Justice. O'Connor said Ginsburg
probably would review the facts of the case, as well as the letters
from Jelly and Spinella, before deciding whether to grant the
The families, through Jelly and Spinella, had asked O'Connor
to open a separate investigation into the shooting and assume
oversight of the case from Hartford police and Hartford State's
Attorney James Thomas, who is supervising the still-ongoing police
O'Connor wrote that he was concerned that an attempt by his
office to open a separate investigation might suffer from similar
problems as the one being conducted by city police. In particular,
he pointed out that his office has worked frequently in the past
with Robert Lawlor, the Hartford officer who fired on Bryant
and Henry after he approached their car in the parking lot of
a convenience store at Main and Sanford streets.
Lawlor says he fired on the two men after he saw Henry, the
car's driver, drive toward his partner, federal agent Dan Prather,
who was working with Lawlor on a newly formed task force designed
to crack down on the city's illegal gun trade. Lawlor also says
he saw Bryant, sitting in the passenger seat, pulling out a gun,
prompting his decision to fire. Bryant was killed after being
struck in the back of the head, while Henry was able to drive
away despite being shot once in the chest. Henry, who has since
recovered from his injuries, drove for another three blocks before
running out of the car and eventually being caught hiding under
a porch on a nearby street.
Despite Lawlor's assertions, however, police were never able
to find a gun in the car or in the neighborhood where Henry drove
as he tried to elude police. The incident has escalated long-simmering
tensions between the police department and the largely African
American community in the North End. Lawlor is white while Bryant
was black, as is Henry.
O'Connor said the fact that Lawlor has worked closely with his
office in previous investigations, as well as the fact that a
federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent is now
a key witness in the case, might give the appearance that his
office could not conduct a fair investigation.
"We have a general concern that at some future point in
time the impartiality and objectivity of the U.S. attorney's
office might be questioned if it were to conduct a separate federal
investigation," he said.
By turning the request over to Ginsburg, O'Connor said, he believes
the families, as well as the rest of the community, can be assured
that there are no conflicts of interest on the part of those
investigating the shooting.
"I am fully confident that the course of action we have
elected can and will satisfy all ... concerned parties that any
criminal investigation ... will be free from the appearance of
a lack of fairness or objectivity," O'Connor said in his
Spinella and Jelly said the families welcomed the information
"I think it's terrific. What we've wanted all along is
to make sure this tragic incident receives a thorough review
from those who have no vested interest in the outcome," Spinella
said. "The stakes are so high, and there are so many implications
that we owe it to everybody to make sure it's impartial."
Ginsburg was not available for comment Wednesday. Hartford Police
Chief Patrick J. Harnett declined to comment on the families'
request for an independent investigation, pointing out that the
police investigation is under the supervision of Thomas, who
could not be reached for comment.
Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano, who has authority
over Thomas and the police investigation, said he welcomed the
possibility of a separate federal probe.
"Any set of additional investigative eyes would be appropriate
as long as it doesn't interfere or hinder the ongoing investigation," he
said. "It's critical that the citizens of Hartford feel
that this is being done in a credible way, and that every effort
is being made to be objective."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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