'He's got my gun': Video shows struggle before deadly Conn. OIS
The driver of a fleeing car was fatally shot Friday during a frantic struggle with at least three cops
By Nicholas Rondinone and Rebecca Lurye
The Hartford Courant
HARTFORD, Conn. — A Hartford police officer yells, “He’s got my gun,” seconds before the driver of a fleeing car was fatally shot Friday during a frantic struggle with at least three cops, body camera footage released Monday shows.
Alphonso Zaporta, 41, appears to attack the officers after they approached his car about 9:15 p.m. Friday following a brief pursuit, officials said. The body camera videos start when officers get out of their vehicles and run toward Zaporta as he continues to flee on the I-84 West on-ramp by Capitol Avenue.
Zaporta opens the driver’s side door and appears to lunge at an officer before another officer, Rocky Last, arrives and clashes with Zaporta on the driver’s seat, the video shows. Last has Zaporta in a headlock inside the car before Det. Zack Sherry arrives and jerks Zaporta’s arm, turning him around inside the vehicle while he is still struggling with Last.
Sherry appears to have a grip on Zaporta’s right arm when Last twice yells, “He’s got my gun." Seconds later, another officer yells out, “Rock, he’s got your gun."
One of three officers involved in the struggle loops around to the passenger’s side of the car and yells, “You’re gonna get shot, bro," before three shots are heard. Fifteen seconds pass between when Last yells about losing his gun and Sherry fires on Zaporta.
"During those moments, it’s clear our officers lives were at risk,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said at a press conference Monday.
Zaporta is seen being dragged backwards from the car by his legs, falling face down on the ground, as shots are heard on the video. While blurry and somewhat frenetic, the video appears to show a gun falling from Zaporta’s hand as the officer fires the fatal shots.
The video then shows a gun lying by Zaporta’s right hand.
Authorities confirmed that Sherry fired the fatal shots. In the video, a passenger exits the vehicle and surrenders to police.
The incident began near Park Terrace and Russ Street, where officers tried to pull Zaporta over in connection with a “gun-related activity," Interim Police Chief Jason Thody said.
“It was more than just a traffic stop, it was also part of an investigation into gun-related activity that happened earlier in the month,” Thody said.
The officers were investigating a July 9 incident in which Zaporta reportedly fired several shots out of a moving car on Lawrence Street, according to law enforcement records provided by a source.
No one was injured in the shooting, but officers located several spent 9mm shell casings in the roadway, according to the records. After Friday’s shooting, ballistic testing turned up “a potential link” between those shell casings and a 9mm firearm officers discovered on the driver’s side floor of the car Zaporta was driving, the records show.
The handgun, which was reported stolen out of Springfield, was loaded, officials have said.
Asked Monday why officers immediately approached Zaporta’s car on the Exit 48 on-ramp, Thody said, “Tactics-wise, that was a vehicle that was actively moving and had already backed into another vehicle. It was a congested on-ramp.
"I would say, I don’t see an opportunity … they deployed the technology they had. They did what they could do at that point to subdue the car, to stop the car from moving. The next step is getting the driver out of the car.”
Per department protocol, Sherry was placed on a two-week, paid administrative leave due to firing his service weapon. Last was also placed on a two-week, paid administrative leave at Thody’s discretion.
At the end of that period, the department will assess whether to bring the officers back or continue their leave.
Officials had been calling for state police and the State’s Attorney’s Office to quickly release video of the shooting. An email containing the footage was released Monday evening.
“The video has been edited out of respect for Mr. Zaporta and his family, but the material being released does capture the portions of the incident pertinent to the investigation into the use of deadly force," the state Division of Criminal Justice said in a news release. It is not clear what was edited out of the videos.
"They (state’s attorney) moved with unusual speed in a situation like this to make the video available,” Bronin said. “I think the reason is as simple as what we said on Saturday: In a situation like this, we think it’s important to show the public as much as we can and provide the most transparency as possible.”
The release Monday included three videos from the cameras of three different officers — each video was more than a minute long
Zaporta, of Windsor, was known to law enforcement before Friday’s shooting, with a criminal record that began in the mid-1990s, when he was a teenager living in Hartford, according to information about his criminal history provided by sources.
Zaporta had two active arrest warrants against him, both issued earlier this year for incidents of domestic violence, according to law enforcement records provided by a source.
He was wanted since Jan. 4 on charges of second-degree strangulation – a felony – and second-degree threatening and second-degree breach of peace. Since June, Zaporta has also been wanted on new charges of second-degree threatening, second-degree breach of peace and harassment.
In 1996, he was convicted of attempted first-degree assault, second-degree larceny and several lesser offenses, including third-degree assault, two counts of probation violation and possession of narcotics, according to information from the Board of Pardons and Parole.
He was released from prison nine years later, in October 2005, to serve the rest of his 11½-year sentence on parole.
Nearly a year later, he was arrested in Hartford again on a breach of peace charge and held in prison for six months, until his conviction and eventual release by the parole board in March 2007.
By then, just three months remained in Zaporta’s sentence, but he was jailed again on May 14, 2007 for missing his curfew and staying in the wrong home, according to the board.
He was released at the end of his sentence, on June 20, 2007. That same year, Zaporta was convicted of first-degree burglary with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 15 years in prison, to be suspended after eight years, according to the criminal records shared by sources.
Zaporta’s mother, Olivia Richard, defended her son and questioned officers’ use of force against him as she spoke to reporters Monday afternoon outside the State Police Troop H office in Hartford.
“What has been previously reported was not what we saw on the video,” she told FOX61.
“My son was killed like a dog and it hurts, and I want answers,” Richard continued. “I need answers, because my son was a good person despite his criminal background or despite what they’re gonna try to paint him and make it look like. There was no reason to kill him like that.”
A relative reached at a family home in Bloomfield on Monday declined to comment.
State police, who are investigating the shooting, said the cause and manner of Zaporta’s death will be determined by the office of the chief medical examiner.
Tolland State’s Attorney Matthew Gedansky is overseeing the investigation and will determine whether the officers’ actions were legal.
“The State’s Attorney extends his condolences to Mr. Zaporta’s family. The investigation is in its early stages and it is not possible to predict at this time how long it will take to complete. Additional information will be provided when appropriate,” the Division of Criminal Justice said. “This will be a thorough and comprehensive investigation to allow the State’s Attorney to determine whether the use of force resulting in the death of Mr. Zaporta was justified under the applicable law.”
This is the first deadly police shooting in Hartford that was captured on body-worn cameras. Hartford police have been rolling out a body-worn camera program since February, Thody said.
By Friday, 200 of the 300 or so cameras were out in the field and training was on-going.
©2019 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)