October 22, 2021

Cortland police officer recounts shooting incident

Kevin Conlon/city editor

Former city of Cortland Police Officer Trevor Wenz explains a video of his arrival at the scene of a 2020 shooting of a city police officer. Defendant Zachary L. Clark is seated behind him in Cortland County Court wearing a black shirt.

Cortland City Police Officer Chad Knapp stepped into the kitchen of a house on Elm Street in March 2020 to find a man seated at a table with a rifle in front of him.

“He said something like, ‘come and get it,’” Knapp recalled Thursday morning as he testified in Cortland County Court in the trial of Zachary L. Clark, who is accused of shooting Knapp three times in the leg that day in 2020.

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

Knapp said Thursday he was the first to respond to a report of a domestic dispute involving a man with a gun. The officer said there was confusion between radio and computer notifications about details of the incident. He heard that the man’s mother had been injured and believed she was still in the house.

Knapp said when he walked into the kitchen, he ordered Clark to show his hands and step away from the table, but Clark refused and raised the rifle. As Knapp retreated from the house, he said Clark fired.

“I heard a shot whiz by my head,” Knapp said. “I was in a bad position with no cover to take, so I retreated back toward my car.”

Knapp said he could hear more gunshots and he returned fire but was struck three times in the leg as he headed to this patrol car with Clark in pursuit.

“I felt a burning sensation in my hamstring,” the officer recalled.

Knapp dropped his pistol, then tried to use a key to open a back door to his marked Chevrolet Tahoe patrol vehicle to reach a rifle, he said. But Clark shot holes in the patrol car windshield and Knapp could not get to his backup weapon.

He used a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.

Other police officers soon arrived and helped Knapp into a Cortland County Sheriff’s Office sport utility vehicle, which transferred him outside the Public Safety Building off Greenbush Street to an ambulance, which drove him to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse.

Former city Police Officer Trevor Wenz, who now works for the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department, took the stand after Knapp and described the scene.

“I saw Officer Knapp run out” of Clark’s house, Wenz said. “I saw a man shouldering a rifle, firing it in officer Knapp’s direction. … I heard three very distinct shots, gunshots.”

Wenz said he opened fire on Clark, who ran back into his house.

Wenz went to check on Knapp.

“I saw officer Knapp in a seated position,” Wenz said. “At this time, I saw a stream of blood. … He said he was hit and was starting to fade.”

A police patrol car dashboard camera recording of the scene was played in court and Wenz explained to the jurors what was going on.

“You know this might happen some day,” he said afterward. “You pray it doesn’t … but it did that day.”

Testimony was to resume today.