FAIRFIELD — The family of slain Vallejo police officer Jim Capoot sat silently Tuesday through the first day of a two-day probable cause hearing for Capoot’s accused killer.
Capoot, a 19-year veteran officer, was fatally shot on the afternoon of Nov. 17, 2011, while pursuing a suspect who had robbed a Bank of America several minutes earlier. A Fairfield man, Henry A. Smith Jr., was arrested by Vallejo police shortly after the shooting.
Smith, a 39-year-old ex-con, has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors have not said whether they intend to pursue the death penalty against Smith. In addition to a murder charge, Smith faces special-circumstance allegations including lying in wait and killing a police officer to avoid arrest, which make him eligible for the death penalty if convicted.
The first witness prosecutor Karen Jensen brought to the witness stand was the bank teller who was confronted at her teller window by a masked man wearing sunglasses who shielded his face with a bag and who set another bag on the counter and demanded money. She triggered an alarm as the bank robber started walking toward the bank’s exit with around $3,000.
A bank customer, Nabil Saleh, who had been standing in line behind the robber, followed the robber out of the bank. Saleh followed the robber as he crossed through a nearby shopping center and watched him get into a Chevrolet Yukon Denali. Saleh, in his van, started tailing the robber, who drove to the freeway and headed toward Sacramento.
The Denali exited the freeway and Saleh stayed behind it until Capoot pulled up in his patrol car alongside Saleh, who pointed to the Denali. Capoot pulled up behind the Denali, turned on his lights and sirens, spurring a high-speed chase.
Officer Peppino Messina testified he had been parked in his patrol car as he heard the start of the pursuit on the radio. A few seconds later, he saw the Denali and Capoot coming toward him and said he briefly looked Smith directly in his eyes as he sped past before Messina joined the chase.
Messina followed the Denali and Capoot through Vallejo before Capoot deliberately rammed the Denali on Janice Street. Smith jumped from the damaged SUV and started running. Messina said he watched Capoot chase after Smith as both men hurdled a fence into a backyard, where three shots rang out seconds later.
Messina made it into the backyard and discovered Capoot lying face down, hands tucked under his body. His Taser had been drawn and fired and his sidearm, still holstered, had been struck by a gunshot that jammed the weapon.
Capoot had been shot once. The bullet entered his lower back, tore through his spine and liver, punched through his heart and exited the middle of his chest, according to the doctor who performed the autopsy on Capoot. The bullet lodged between Capoot’s body armor and his chest.
Messina rolled Capoot over and heard his dying moans as the growing wail of police sirens filled the air.
Several other Vallejo police officers described what they did after hearing the urgent shouts on their radios of “shots fired” followed by “officer down.”
Officer Alan Caragan said he was the first officer to spot Smith after the shooting. Caragan said he watched Smith climb over a backyard fence down the block from the shooting scene and start walking toward the street.
Lt. Abel Tenorio and Lt. Lee Horton also spotted Smith, who they said stood out as he walked casually across a scene of growing chaos. When they tried to catch up to Smith, they said he started trotting and then began running.
Smith made it to the front door of a nearby home where he pulled open a screen door and started pounding on the front door, shouting out, “Let me in the police are going to kill me.”
Horton pulled at Smith and another officer took him to the ground and handcuffed him.
A loaded Glock .40 caliber pistol was found in Smith’s pants pocket, according to police testimony. A search of nearby yards turned up a black jacket and shoulder holster dumped into a garbage can in the yard adjacent to the shooting scene.
The day of testimony ended with Officer William Badour saying the distinctively patterned blue jeans and shoes Smith was wearing when he was arrested were similar to the pants and shoes worn by the bank robber that was recorded by bank surveillance cameras.
The hearing is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the courtroom of Judge Peter B. Foor.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.
Correction: This version corrects a city reference in the eighth paragraph.