October 22, 2021

Recording of Cortland police officer’s shooting played for jurors

Kevin Conlon/city editor

Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti shows the body armor Wednesday of Cortland police Officer Chad Knapp, who was shot in March 2020 during a domestic dispute call. Zachary L. Clark is on trial in Cortland County Court on charges of attempted first- and second-degree murder in the case.

The recording echoed Wednesday through the Cortland County courtroom:

“Shots fired, shots fired,” a man’s voice yelled over a radio to a county emergency dispatchers.

“Officer shot, officer shot,” the man yells soon afterward, sending police officers from several agencies speeding to the scene, according to testimony and video presented in the trial of Zachary L. Clark.

Audio and video recordings of the moments after a Cortland city police officer was shot while responding to a March 2020 domestic violence report were played for a jury Wednesday in Cortland County Court.

Clark is accused of shooting police Officer Chad Knapp outside Clark’s house at 12 Elm St. in Cortland at dusk, just before 8 p.m.

The timing of the shooting is important, the defense maintains, saying in opening arguments earlier in the day that in the fading sunlight, Clark did not recognize Knapp as a police office when he shot him.

Knapp’s black body armor, which had a badge and the word “police” and his name printed in white on the front and “police” on the back, was entered into evidence Wednesday.

Knapp was taken to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse after the shooting, treated and released the next day.

Clark had been drinking and got into a violent dispute with relatives around 7:30 p.m. shortly before the shooting, court documents show.

Bryant Holl, Clark’s brother, would not let Clark borrow his car.

Clark surrendered around 8 a.m. the next morning. He was initially taken to Guthrie Cortland Medical Center and then to Upstate University Hospital for a non-life threatening gunshot wound to his left forearm.

Clark is accused of attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault, two counts of menacing a police officer or peace officer, and aggravated assault upon a police officer, felonies, according to court documents.

He is also accused of third-degree assault, fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, use of a dangerous weapon and two counts of second-degree menacing, misdemeanors; and disorderly conduct, a violation.

Before the examination of witnesses, Assistant District Attorney Victoria Monty and defense attorney Madeline Weiss made their opening arguments.

Monty set the scene of the shooting.

“Suspect has a gun, shots fired, officer down,’’ Monty said. “Those words sound like something out of a movie or television show. But what you’re going to hear about is real life.”

Monty recounted statements from Petula Holl, Clark’s mother, and Knapp in painting the scene of Clark threatening Holl and shooting Knapp.

“Officer Knapp will describe for you that he could hear the crack of a bullet whiz by his head,” Monty said, describing Knapp’s testimony where Knapp was attempting to get Clark to surrender a rifle.

Monty also said in her opening that Clark kept firing his rifle at Knapp while Knapp was leaving Clark’s home.

“Ms. Monty brought to you a theory of the case: that my client shot or potentially attempted to murder a near wounded police officer,” Weiss said in her opening. “But what she was talking about was a theory, and it’s just a theory. Here’s what she didn’t tell you: This case is about one man defending himself agains a person who barged into his home, dressed all in black with a gun.”

Weiss said the only real evidence the prosecution has against Clark are accounts from Bryant Holl — Clark’s brother — and Knapp, who Weiss said cannot be reliable witnesses as perception is subjective.

Following opening statements, Monty questioning Petula Holl about the events leading up to the standoff — including a fight between Bryant Holl and Clark — that led to Petula Holl getting involved and trying to take the rifle from Clark’s hand. Clark then threatened to shoot Petula Holl, she said.

Defense attorney Jerome Mayersak asked Petula Holl whether she was fairly intoxicated when the fight between her sons happened — which she said she was — and how well Clark and Bryant Holl got along.

Bryant Holl was also questioned by Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti about Bryant Holl’s recollection of the fight and events leading up to the standoff along with Bryant Holl’s knowledge of the rifle Clark used.

Bryant Holl said Clark had used the rifle properly and never pointed it at anyone before March 27, 2020, and Clark had been fine most of the day until right before the shooting.

Mayersak asked Bryant Holl if there were other examples of Clark acting strangely, to which Holl responded that the family has a bird clock that Clark will sometimes talk to or talks to the ceiling.

Testimony was scheduled to continue at 8:30 a.m. today.