A Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday against a bid to bar the father of slain teenager Jashon Bryant from the Hartford courthouse.
With tensions around the case running high, city and state law enforcement officers allege that Keith Thomas of Windsor has repeatedly harassed Robert Lawlor, the Hartford police officer accused of killing Thomas' son.
Lawlor had asked the court to prohibit Thomas from coming within 1,000 feet of the Hartford courthouse when Lawlor is there on a manslaughter charge in Bryant's killing.
Lawlor's attorney, Michael Georgetti, said that since October 2006 Thomas has presented an "imminent danger" to Lawlor, his wife and his lawyer. Thomas has engaged in "stare-downs" with the defendant and has placed Lawlor's safety in jeopardy, Georgetti said.
Thomas was charged with breach of peace and intimidation based on bigotry after he approached Lawlor during a court appearance in October 2006 and allegedly used a racial slur. Prosecutors decided not to pursue the case.
On Tuesday, Judge Thomas Miano found no probable cause to charge Thomas with contempt of court, or to place him under a restraining order.
"There is no need for a protective order," Miano said, later adding that neither Hartford police officers nor court officials had found probable cause to charge Thomas with harassment or stalking after the October 2006 incident.
"We have a great system where the courtrooms are open. That sets our court apart," Miano said. He said those who appear in court "have a right not to be threatened or harassed."
However, he said, "My heart goes out to Mr. Keith Thomas. ... No one can appreciate someone who has experienced his loss. He has a right to be in this courtroom."
The judge said Thomas did not have an absolute right to be there if it were found that he had harassed Lawlor, his lawyer or his family. "I'm not saying you did anything wrong but you have to respect this court," he said.
Lawlor did not attend the proceedings. Thomas was joined by his family, community activist Carmen Rodriguez and members of the Nation of Islam.
Joseph Moniz, a defense attorney representing Thomas, said Lawlor was trying to slow down the judicial process.
"For a father whose son is shot in the head twice, it makes no sense for Mr. Lawlor to be treated like a victim," Moniz said, adding that "this is simply a way of distracting the fact that Mr. Lawlor is on trial here."
Lawlor was charged by a grand jury in the fatal shooting of Bryant, 18, in May 2005. Bryant was a passenger in a car parked on North Main Street in Hartford when Lawlor and Dan Prather, an agent from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, approached them. Lawlor and Prather were trying to remove illegal guns from the streets, Lawlor has said.
Lawlor said he believed that Bryant and another man in the car, Brandon Henry, had a gun when he ordered them out of the vehicle. Instead of getting out, Henry drove away and Lawlor opened fire. Bryant was killed instantly. Henry was wounded in the chest and crashed into a parked car several blocks away.
Police did not find any weapons in the car after the shooting.
Prather told the grand jury that he never felt that his life was in danger as he stood beside the car, according to documents.
The friction between Thomas and Lawlor is probably the result of the length of time the case has dragged on, New Haven prosecutor Michael Dearington, who is handling the case, said Tuesday.
"I want to ask that the trial date be set," he said.
Georgetti said that it was premature to set a date, as Lawlor is trying to raise money to hire an expert, and he may even need to exhume Bryant's body to confirm his injuries.
Miano scheduled the trial for Feb. 14, 2008.
Contact Tina A. Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.