A Cortland man convicted of shooting a police officer in March 2020 was sentenced Thursday to 35 years to life in prison in Cortland County Court.
Zachary L. Clark, 28, of 12 Elm St., was convicted in June on the counts 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 was also found guilty of 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.
Clark shot Knapp three times on March 27, 2020, as Knapp responded to a domestic dispute at Clark’s home, leading to a 12-hour standoff. Knapp was taken to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, treated and released the next day.
Clark had been drinking and got into a violent dispute with his mother and brother 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 the following morning. He was initially taken to Guthrie Cortland Medical Center and then to Upstate University Hospital for a gunshot wound to his left forearm.
Judge Julie A. Campbell ruled the largest sentence — 35 years to life in prison — for his top count of attempted first-degree murder.
Before sentencing, Campbell noted that Clark, according to investigations, was not diagnosed with any mental health or substance abuse issues, and that he knew what he was doing when he shot Knapp.
This included shooting at Knapp inside Clark’s home and then pursuing Knapp when he tried to flee, she said.
Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti echoed Campbell’s sentiments, recounting the events of the night how Knapp responded to the domestic dispute call at the home and tried to get Clark to surrender his rifle before Clark fired at Knapp and chased Knapp outside. Knapp retreated to his vehicle before calling for backup.
“Officer Trevor Wenz put it best: ‘What happened on March 27, 2020, was something we pray never happens but did that day,’” Perfetti said, his voice choking up and trying to hold back tears.
Perfetti, quoting former Cortland Community Police Officer Jesse Abbott on the concept taken from ancient Greece, said police were “guardians of our society.”
Knapp suffered not just from physical wounds — including a bullet lodged inside him that may never be able to be removed — but emotional wounds including post traumatic stress disorder, Perfetti said.
In recommending the maximum sentence of 40 years to life for Clark, Perfetti said the life of a police officer isn’t worth more than the life of anyone else.
“However, this court, in passing sentence upon this defendant, has a unique opportunity to express, on behalf of this community, that we stand in support of our guardians,” he said.
That support was seen in roughly 50 police officers and sheriff’s officers filling one side of the courtroom’s gallery.
Jerome Mayersak, Clark’s defense attorney, maintained Clark’s innocence and said Clark may have mental health issues that Clark may not be fully cognizant of, including paranoia, schizophrenia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
The trauma Clark also faced growing up after witnessing the death of his 3-month-old sister may also have had an effect on Clark’s mental health.
“I’m hopeful that when given the opportunity, he can deal with these issues when he’s incarcerated,” Mayersak said.
He also raised the question of when, if ever, would Clark be able to return to society — he would be 63 before he is eligible for parole.
Mayersak also pointed out that Knapp had the support of law enforcement but Clark did not have the support of his family.
“No one has ever supported Zach,” he said. “The only two people who have been sitting at Zach’s side are his attorneys.”
Mayersak recommended a sentence of 20 years to life.