BARNSTABLE – The jury trial of the man indicted in the 2018 shooting death of a Yarmouth police sergeant began on Friday in Barnstable Superior Court.
Put simply and bluntly, prosecutor Michael Trudeau laid out his case against Thomas Latanowich, taking jurors step by step through the events of April 12 that led to the death of the sergeant. Sean Gannon, 32 years old.
In his introduction, Latanowich’s lawyer Joseph Krowski acknowledged that Gannon’s death was tragic and that many facts are not in dispute, but argued that the police botched the arrest by not following the procedure. He also claimed that his client did not realize that the police were storming his home. Latanowich was already on the alert, Krowski said, because someone had shot him a few days earlier.
Previously in this case:
He maintains that the “police conduct was faulty” on April 12 and wondered why none of the Barnstable officers on site wrote a police report that day. It wasn’t until four days later that they did an interview.
“It smacks of a thing,” he said. “A cover-up. I suggest to you that after hearing all the evidence in this case, the only thing you can conclude is that Mr. Latanowich is not guilty.
Latanowich is charged with first degree murder and seven other counts including assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, possession of an unlicensed firearm, and abuse / interference with a police dog. During the incident, Latanowich reportedly shot Gannon’s K-9 partner, Nero, who survived.
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Gannon was serving an arrest warrant for Latanowich at a house in Marstons Mills when he was shot.
Latanowich, wearing a dark gray suit , sitting quietly taking notes. His family was sitting behind him – across the aisle from the Gannon family.
Trudeau, prosecutor of the Cape and Islands prosecutor’s office, noted in his opening statement that on April 12 Yarmouth police officers Sean Geary and Christopher Van Ness met with a state policeman soldier with Yarmouth Police Department. They received reports that an arrest warrant had been issued for a probation violationfor Latanowich and that he would likely be found in a house on Blueberry Lane, Trudeau said.
Officers received information about Latanowich’s whereabouts, including Blueberry Lane in Marstons Mills. Officers went to one location and saw no activity, so they proceeded to Blueberry Lane. Geary said police weren’t sure of the exact address, but they drove down the street looking for a car associated with Latanowich. Van Ness recognized a truck parked at 109 Blueberry Lane, Geary said.
When Geary arrived at the house, he could hear the sound of the furniture being moved inside. They asked for additional officers, Trudeau said, and Barnstable Police Sgt. Michael Clark arrived to help.
Officers made a plan to enter the premises and called Gannon and his K-9 Nero to help them search. When Nero and Gannon arrived, police spoke with the occupant of the house and obtained the tenant’s permission to enter, Trudeau said. They retrieved a key to open the door, and with Nero on a 20 to 30 foot leash, Nero walked in and searched every room.
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Police said something like “Yarmouth Police.” We have a warrant for your arrest. Come out and meet or we’ll bring the dog and it might bite you, ”Trudeau said.
Officers cleaned the first floor of the house without seeing anyone, but noticed that one of the bedrooms had a hatch in a cupboard that led up to the attic. They searched the basement but it was cleaned, so they went back to the bedroom leading to the attic. Nero was sent to the unfinished attic first, followed by Gannon, but they couldn’t find anyone. The officers decided to return to search through the isolation. They checked again and realized there was a place that had not been checked before, Trudeau said.
Gannon raised his hand to remove a piece of insulation when officers heard a pop, Trudeau said.
Gannon was shot in the head and fell face first, Trudeau said. Officers pulled Gannon down and took him to the home to begin treatment. Shortly after pulling him down, they heard another shot from the attic, Trudeau said.
Gannon was taken on a stretcher and rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Trudeau said.
At Blueberry Lane, officers called for reinforcements, Trudeau said. The 911 dispatch center received calls from Latanowich, Trudeau said, whom the jury will hear as the trial continues. Latanowich had also communicated with a woman who is the mother of his child, and the jury will see a series of text messages and a voicemail message that have been left.
The officers had several conversations with Latanowich to end the situation peacefully, and Latanowich eventually surrendered. Officers then re-entered 109 Blueberry Lane and proceeded to a check. They recovered Nero, who had suffered a gunshot wound, from the attic and took him to a veterinary hospital, Trudeau said. Nero survived.
Trudeau said officers processed the scene and found pieces of a gun that were taken apart and placed in different locations, Trudeau said.
Krowski stressed during his opening statement that Latanowich is presumed innocent and that jurors cannot place any burden of proof on them.
“You don’t look at him suspiciously and look at him negatively,” he said. “In fact, it’s quite the opposite. You look at him, and when you do, you grant him that favorable presumption of innocence.
Krowski said some facts are not in dispute, such as that of April 12, 2018, Gannon was tragically shot with a single shot, and that K-9 Nero was shot or that Latanowich had a gun.
“What I’m suggesting is going to be the lion’s share of the dispute, it’s the how and the why,” Krowski said.
The shooting took place on April 12, but Latanowich’s woes began weeks earlier, he said. Police were unaware Latanowich feared for his safety and his life, Krowski said. In the days leading up to April 12, Latanowich was on his way to a friend’s home when his car was shot down by someone he said was trying to kill him, Krowski said.
Krowski said there is no evidence that Latanowich professed a desire to shoot and kill a policeman and that Latanowich did not know it was a policeman who entered the attic.
He said there was also no evidence that Latanowich shot officers when they entered the house or ambushed them or pointed a gun through a window.
Krowski argued that the two Yarmouth sergeants did not follow police procedure, claiming that they did not notify the Barnstable Police Department before going to the Marstons Mills house. He said there was no information on who was actually responsible for making the arrest.
He argued that Barnstable Police Department shift commander Michael Clark, who later testified, was not involved in the decision-making process.
Krowski argued that officers had not established an outside perimeter and allowed a worker next door to continue working on a nearby roof using a compressor with a nailer. He said police heard the shot but were unsure whether it was a gunshot or the nail gun.
He said Barnstable and Yarmouth Police Services are part of a joint SWAT team that has policies and procedures for when an individual is barricaded. They are trained to establish a perimeter, establish communication with the person and are trained to wait and defuse situations.
Before Gannon was shot, a man named Robert Bergen provided officers with a phone number to reach Latanowich, but they did not initially call him, Krowski said.
When the SWAT team was finally called up, Krowski said, they spoke with Latanowich and he got off.
After the opening statements, Trudeau began calling witnesses, starting with Barnstable Police Lt. Michael Clark, who described what he was doing that day as shift supervisor. He stood in the backyard of the house to make sure no one came out the back door or through a window. He said he repeatedly heard voices saying something like “Police. Tommy exits. We have a mandate. We have a K-9.
When Gannon was shot, he came running in and saw Geary placing Gannon on the floor in the hall near the front door. Clark knelt next to Van Ness in the hallway and soon decided they had to get out and establish a perimeter.
In cross-examination, Krowski pointed out the absence of written reports from the Barnstable Police Department and that no command post had been set up.
Trudeau also brought in William Tarbokas, who is retired from the Massachusetts State Police Crime Scene Department, who took photos and videos after the incident later that night.
Videos were shown in court of footage taken by Tarbokas at the 109 Blueberry Lane crime scene.
The images showed the light-colored one-story house that had a wheelchair ramp leading to the front door. Inside were several children’s drawings, one lying next to a large stain of blood. A K-9 unit vest was photographed on the ground. There was a crib with a canopy pushed to the side. A living room with a floral rug was shown with two dark-colored sofas facing an LG TV. In some rooms, many objects were gathered on the beds and counters.
In a back room, a blood-spattered ladder was propped up inside a closet leading to a small unfinished attic, or crawl space, where there was insulation instead of a floor. Inside the attic there was a set of insulation that separated a newer part of the roof from an older part.
Former Yarmouth Police Officer Sean Geary also testified that when they entered the house Gannon repeatedly informed anyone inside that Yarmouth Police were there, that they had a K-9, to surrender and, if not, they could be bitten.
Minutes to 4 p.m. in the middle of Geary’s examination-in-chief, Locke suspended until Monday. Trudeau expects to take about a week and a half to present all of his evidence, and Krowski also expects to take a week and a half.
Contact Jessica Hill at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @jess_hillyeah.