Man pleads ‘not guilty’ to shooting cop; mental health questions raised

Police take Zachary L. Clark, 26, into custody after a 12-hour standoff overnight at his Elm Street residence. SCOTT CONROE. (Photo taken on March 28th, 2020).

A city man pled not guilty this afternoon to a 12-count indictment in County Court stemming from the 12-hour March standoff on Elm Street that left one policeman with three gunshot wounds.

Orders are pending for a psychiatric evaluation of Zachary L. Clark, 27, who could be sentenced to 40 years to life for attempting to murder the city patrolman, according to court documents and testimony.

Clark — who has been remanded without bail since March — was again sent to the Cortland County Jail without bail after the arraignment before Cortland County Judge Julie Campbell.

“I recognize I should be looking at least restrictive circumstances,” Campbell said, but she cited the case’s serious nature and the available information in her decision to continue Clark’s remand. “Defense counsel can always request a review of the court.”

Campbell warned Clark at the arraignment that he was facing a potential life sentence.

“It’s important that I tell you that so that you are aware,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” Clark said.

The shooting and standoff began about 8 p.m. March 27 at Clark’s Elm street residence, according to court documents. Clark fired a loaded .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle at his brother twice while inside the home, but missed him, according to a Cortland Police Department felony complaint. A city officer responded to the residence and Clark shot at the officer, wounding him three times, according to another felony complaint.

Clark’s brother had called 911 and made it outside to talk to the officer when he arrived, according to the Cortland Police Department. When the officer approached the house, Clark shot at the officer, according to the department.

“The officer was met, almost immediately, with gunfire,” said Lt. Michael Strangeway in Cortland Police Department release. “Clark fired numerous rounds at the uniformed city officer, striking him at least three times in his lower extremities.”

Clark continued to fire at the officer while the patrolman took cover behind his vehicle and applied a tourniquet to his badly bleeding upper leg, Strangeway said. When another officer arrived and returned fire, Clark retreated into the home, he said. The injured officer suffered a gunshot to the buttocks and to the back of the thigh, as well as a graze wound to the buttocks, Strangeway said. The officer was treated at University Upstate Hospital and released several hours later, according to the department.

At dawn, Clark gave himself up to police, ending the standoff after police set off chemical irritants within the house and attacked it with an armored vehicle, according to the department. Clark had refused to speak with the department’s negotiator, Strangeway said.

Clark also suffered a gunshot wound to his left forearm during the shootout and was treated at Upstate University Hospital as well, he said.

On March 30, Cortland City Court ordered a psychiatric examination be conducted to determine Clark’s mental health and fitness to stand trial, according to court documents.

“We would ask that your report expand upon the question of competency as required by the statute, providing such additional background information which would be of assistance to the Court and the attorneys involved,” wrote a court clerk in a filed letter. “Counsel for the defendant suggests that the defendant has limited ability to understand the charges.”

No psychiatric report was filed with the County Court as of this afternoon.

Clark is scheduled to next appear at 11 a.m. Oct. 8 in Cortland County Court. He is indicted on six felony charges: first-degree attempted murder of a police officer, second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault, aggravated assault on a police officer and two counts of menacing a police officer. Five misdemeanors were also levied against Clark: third-degree assault, two counts of second-degree menacing, fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon and prohibited use of weapons. He was also charged with disorderly conduct, a violation.