WARWICK, R.I. — A jury is now deliberating after hearing arguments about whether an off-duty Pawtucket police officer “blew a gasket” and committed multiple felonies when he shot and injured a teen driver outside a West Greenwich pizza parlor, or whether he acted in self-defense after trying to have a “fatherly chat” with an out-of-control young motorist.
Over about two hours of closing arguments in Kent County Superior Court Wednesday, a lawyer for Daniel Dolan Jr. and a prosecutor for the state presented starkly different accounts of what happened on June 23, 2021. But there was no dispute on one key fact: Dolan shot Dominic Vincent, then 18, outside Wicked Good Pizza in West Greenwich. Dolan’s round hit Vincent’s arm.
In dispute: Who instigated the incident. Where Dolan was standing when he fired the lone shot. Whether Dolan acted with malice, or with the intention to protect himself.
Dolan remained mostly stoic at the defense table as the two sides presented their arguments to the jury, although Vincent’s family members in the gallery shook their heads in disbelief or nodded in approval depending on who was making their case Wednesday morning.
“This is classic self-defense,” said Dolan’s attorney, Michael Colucci.
“Unfortunately, when it comes to Dan Dolan, his badge of authority became an emblem of disgrace and betrayal,” retorted prosecutor John Corrigan when it was his turn to speak.
The trial took place before Judge Luis Matos. Dolan pleaded not guilty.
Dolan, now 40, has been suspended without pay from his job as a Pawtucket city police officer, where he was most recently a school resource officer at Slater Middle School. He had faced scrutiny even before the incident.
Though the case has cast a harsh light on a Pawtucket cop, he was off-duty and in a different jurisdiction at the time, so he wasn’t legally acting as a police officer and couldn’t claim to be, Matos instructed the jury. Legally, the case comes down to the same sort of self-defense that every person is entitled to in Rhode Island — in short, when someone reasonably believes he’s in imminent danger of bodily harm, and responds with an amount of force that’s necessary to protect himself.
It began on Interstate 95, where Dolan, in a landscaping truck, and Vincent and his two friends, in an Audi, were driving on June 23, 2021. Prosecutors acknowledged the Audi was going over 100 miles per hour, up to 126 miles per hour.
Vincent’s Audi got off 95. Dolan did, too. Vincent pulled into the Wicked Good Pizza plaza on Nooseneck Hill Road to pick up some food before watching playoff basketball. Dolan had caught up, and pulled in behind them. That was captured on video, although the crucial moment — Dolan firing a shot — happened out of frame.
The video shows Dolan, in civilian clothes, getting out of his car and walking over to Vincent’s Audi flashing his badge. Vincent had no way of knowing who the “lunatic” was who just pulled in behind him, Corrigan argued; Colucci said Vincent knew very well Dolan was a police officer.
Arguments on Wednesday varied, but the video clearly showed Vincent backing up, away from Dolan. Dolan followed the Audi on foot. Out of frame, the Audi swung around and started going forward.
At some point in this span of a few seconds, Dolan opened fire with his police weapon.
The prosecution said evidence in the trial clearly established that Dolan was alongside Vincent’s car when he shot through the driver’s side window. Because of that, he was not in any danger of being hit by the car, and was not acting in self-defense, prosecutors argued. Corrigan pointed to testimony from witnesses, as well as the path the bullet took in the car and eventually in Vincent’s arm.
Dolan himself testified — and prosecutors contend he lied through his teeth. Corrigan reenacted how he said Dolan testified about holding the gun: with his right arm outstretched to his side, like a scarecrow but with his hand cocking it forward. Corrigan suggested that Dolan described shooting that way so he could somehow explain how the bullet went through the driver’s side window even though he was standing in front of the car.
That’s not what happened, prosecutors said. In fact, a witness testified that Dolan looked into the window before shooting, Corrigan said.
“He knows exactly what he’s doing,” Corrigan said.
And, prosecutors argued, Dolan was the one who provoked the whole thing, by following Vincent’s car into the parking lot, getting out of his truck, and then following Vincent’s car. People can’t rely on self-defense in combative confrontations they themselves instigate, Matos instructed the jury.
Dolan’s attorney, of course, took a different view of things. A trained police officer and Marine veteran, Dolan — Officer Dolan, as Colucci called him during closings — was merely trying to peacefully stop the Audi, which he’d seen driving at breakneck speed on Interstate 95.
Dolan remained peaceful as he walked — didn’t run — toward the Audi, Colucci argued. He ended up in front of the car, and feared he’d get dragged by it as it started to move forward, Colucci argued. At some point he got “bumped,” Colucci said. Dolan believed that by disabling the driver, he wouldn’t be dragged as far. Vincent, in Colucci’s telling, had tried to run Dolan over.
Colucci didn’t dispute that the bullet went through the driver’s side window instead of the windshield. The entire incident, from deciding to fire to actually doing it, took time to unfold, Colucci argued.
“Eventually an angle is going to be created,” Colucci said.
Colucci also pointed to a 911 call from a witness who said “the guy tried to run the other guy over,” and said witnesses in another car couldn’t have seen what they said they’d seen.
The jury started deliberating after closing arguments Wednesday. Dolan faces three counts of assault and one count of discharging a firearm while committing a crime of violence.