A dozen witnesses testified today in the preliminary hearing for a man accused of fatally shooting Vallejo police Officer James Capoot during a pursuit after a bank robbery in November 2011. At the hearing in Solano County Superior Court in Fairfield, Vallejo police Officer Peppino Messina testified that defendant Henry Albert Smith looked directly at him as his Yukon Denali sped past his parked patrol car on Tuolomne Street at about 60 mph with Capoot in pursuit. “He made eye contact,” Messina said. Smith, 39, of Fairfield, is charged with Capoot’s murder on the afternoon of Nov. 17, 2011. He has also been charged with several special-circumstance allegations including lying in wait and killing a police officer to avoid arrest. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
Messina said he joined the chase, which ended when Capoot used his patrol car to make Smith’s SUV spin out on Janice Street in a residential neighborhood. Smith fled the vehicle as it was still moving, and Capoot gave chase on foot, Messina said. “He was about 10 to 15 yards behind the suspect,” Messina said of Capoot. Messina also joined the foot chase but said he lost sight of the suspect and Capoot. “I heard three shots. Two were one after another, then there was a two- to three-second pause and then the last shot,” Messina said. He said he saw the microphone that Capoot had been wearing on his uniform dangling over the top of a fence along the side yard of a home at 124 Janice St. “I pushed the fence down to get to the backyard. I saw Jim lying face-down in the backyard. His arms were under his body,” Messina testified.
Messina said he and his police dog searched the yard for the suspect then returned to help Capoot, who was unresponsive but making moaning sounds, Messina testified. Messina and another officer who arrived took off Capoot’s shirt and vest and began CPR, Messina said. “I tried to get a carotid pulse, but didn’t get anything,” Messina said. Capoot had been shot once in the back, and later died at a hospital. The first witness to testify this morning was Jessica Arroyo, a teller at the Bank of America on Springs Road where the robbery occurred prior to the car chase.
Arroyo testified that she saw a man in the merchants’ line covering his face with a bank bag, and that his skin looked strange. When he got to her station, she saw that he was wearing a mask, she said. “He said, ‘Put the money in the bag. Don’t say anything, and don’t push the button,'” Arroyo testified. She emptied her top drawer, putting $3,000 into the bag. Bank customer Nabil Saleh testified that the robber walked to the door, then ran when a security guard shouted at him, “Hey.” Saleh testified that he saw the man get into an SUV. The security guard told him to follow the car to get its license plate number, Saleh said.
Saleh said he stayed three to four car lengths behind the suspect’s vehicle until Capoot pulled alongside him in his patrol car and asked, “Which vehicle?” Capoot then sped off after the SUV with his lights and siren on. Smith was arrested a short time after the shooting as he tried to enter a nearby home. This afternoon, Vallejo police officers testified that a .40-caliber Glock semiautomatic handgun was found in his pants pocket. Lt. Lee Horton testified that he and Capt. Lori Lee were driving in the area of the shooting when they saw a man fitting the suspect’s description in jeans and a gray shirt walking calmly across Janice Street. Horton said that when he stopped the car, the man started to trot, heading to a home at 157 Janice St. “He was banging and kicking on the door and saying, ‘Let me in, the police are trying to kill me,'” Horton testified.
Horton said he ordered Smith — who had opened the home’s exterior security door and was standing between that door and the wooden front door — to show his hands and get down on the ground. Smith slowly began to move to his knees, Horton said. Officer Douglas Wilcox, who had also arrived at the scene, then pulled the security door away from Smith’s body as Horton shot Smith twice with a Taser, without effect, Horton testified. Wilcox also testified today, saying he grabbed Smith’s arm after Horton Tasered him and pulled him to the ground, then handcuffed him. He said he then pulled Smith to his feet and searched him, and found the handgun in the left front pocket of Smith’s pants. The gun had a bullet in the chamber and several rounds in the magazine, Wilcox testified.
Vallejo police Detective William Badour testified that the jeans and tennis shoes Smith was wearing when he was arrested were similar to those worn by the bank robber, who was captured on surveillance video. Testimony will continue Wednesday in the preliminary hearing, which will allow a judge to determine whether there is enough evidence to hold Smith for trial. Capoot’s wife and three daughters were in court today.