Tempers flared on Tuesday as former Hartford police officer Robert Lawlor was found not guilty in the shooting death of Jashon Bryant in 2005 and Hartford’s mayor is calling for calm in the city.
The jury reached a verdict on Tuesday afternoon, acquitting Lawlor of manslaughter in the shooting death of Jashon Bryant, 18.
The decision before the jury was whether Lawlor broke the law in 2005 when he shot and killed Bryant in an undercover-sting-gone-wrong or if he was justified in pulling the trigger that fateful night.
After the verdict was read on Tuesday, Bryant's grief-stricken family rushed from the courtroom, the Hartford Courant reports
. Bryant's mother, Cynthia, almost collapsed outside court, the Courant
"A policeman has license to kill black people in our neighborhood and get away with it," Keith Thomas, Bryant's father, said outside court, according to the Courant. "It was my son who got bullets put into him. [Lawlor] should be going to prison."
“He just got away with killing my son again,” Bryant’s mother, Cynthia, said. “He killed him two times.”
The verdict came down the day before Jashon’s birthday, his family said.
“I don’t get to say ‘Happy Birthday,’” his sister told Lawlor. She also said she was bothered that the officer never apologized.
Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez is calling for calm and solidarity in the wake of the verdict and says three churches will open Tuesday afternoon for people seeking spiritual guidance or for a place to reflect.
“We are closing a difficult chapter for our City. Families have been devastated but we must come together today as one city, one Hartford,” Perez said in a statement. “We need to remain calm and be supportive of our young people, our families, and of those who are sworn to serve and protect.”
Outside the courthouse, Lawlor defended himself and said he took an oath.
“I did nothing wrong,” he said.
Lawyers for the now-retired 18-year veteran police officer argued that Lawlor was obligated to protect the people of the city he served and that's even if it meant using a gun.
Prosecutors argued that police, just like the rest of us, have to follow the laws.
A manslaughter and assault conviction carries a prison sentence of as much as 40 years.
"In a case such as this, not only is reasonable doubt an issue but the state must disprove beyond a reasonable doubt that the police officer was justified,” Michael Georgetti
, Lawlor's lawyer, said. “That's really what the jury is concerned with in this case."
The case involved a shooting in May 2005, in Hartford's North End when Lawlor said he saw Bryant get in a car, holding a gun. Lawlor walked up. The driver took off. Lawlor fired. Bryant was killed.
Investigators have said no gun was found.
"How can you see a gun if someone's back is to you, if there's a car between you and him and you're 115 feet away and you're looking over the shoulder of a junkie? How could he see that?" Dearington asked.
Lawlor did not take the stand at trial, but his grand jury testimony was read into evidence.
Phillips Metropolitan AME Church, at 2500 Main St., Shiloh Baptist Church, 350 Albany Ave. and Northend Church of Christ, 687 Albany Ave. will be open.
This is a time to forge ahead by working with parents, clergy, community leaders, corporate partners, our school system and our Peacebuilders," Perez said. "Right now there needs to be one voice for Hartford and that is one of peace.”
Copyright Associated Press / NBC Connecticut