New York State Trooper Sean Finn, who was shot in September 2005 during a search for a man who fled from a traffic stop, testified in Clinton County Court on Tuesday about the search and the moment when he was shot. Trooper Finn has recovered from his wounds and has returned to work. Vladimir Kulakov is on trial for attempted murder in the shooting of Trooper Finn, as well as other charges. Below is an article from the Press Republican newspaper of Plattsburgh recounting Trooper Finn’s testimony.
By: Andrea VanValkenburg
October 18, 2006
PLATTSBURGH — When State Trooper Sean Finn went to work Sept. 9, 2005, he had no idea that by the end of the day he would have gunshot wounds to his hands, arm and head.
"That’s a night I’ll never forget," said Finn, the second of four witnesses to testify Tuesday, the second day of the trial of Vladimir Kulakov in Clinton County Court.
‘STATE POLICE, STOP’
Finn, who has been a trooper for eight years, was on a typical patrol when he received a call to assist another trooper who was in pursuit of a stolen construction truck.
As Finn sped down Smithfield Boulevard in Plattsburgh, he spotted the slow-moving chase making its way onto Tom Miller Road.
The red truck drove up the lawn at Garvey Hyundai, crossed back onto traffic lanes and pulled onto the edge of a residential property.
Finn testified that he instinctively sped ahead and blocked the front of the truck. As he was parking, he said, a white male in dark clothing jumped out of the truck’s driver-side door and began to flee on foot.
Finn leapt from the marked police car and attempted to follow the driver but lost sight of him as the chase wound around the two-story home and into the thick vegetation behind it.
"I said, ‘State Police, stop,’ and the figure continued into the trees."
Finn then rounded the paved driveway and quickly searched the carport at the home with Trooper Ryan Johnston before the pair continued behind the aging wooden barn, where they saw a plastic bag in the tall grass.
Johnston, who also took the stand Tuesday, began to turn back to secure the truck, fearing the suspect may return to the road, as Finn illuminated the darkness with a flashlight.
Finn said he spotted fresh footprints in the recently fallen dew. As he followed the footsteps into the field, he suddenly heard a noise on his left.
"I heard some branches breaking in the field. I shined my flashlight and didn’t see anyone. I ran to where I heard the branches break," he told the nine female and six male jurors.
The trooper said he quickly switched off his light and bent down to quietly move the branches and brush that littered the ground.
As he stood up, he pushed away more branches and quickly flashed on his light.
"That’s when I saw the face. He was sitting on the ground, and there was brush obstructing his chest area. His eyes were wide.
"Then I saw the gun pointed at me. As soon as I saw the gun, I heard the shots. It was a quick, rapid, pop, pop.
"I covered my face and turned to the side."
Finn made his way back to the clearing, as he withdrew his handgun from its holster and dropped to one knee, fumbling for his radio to call for help.
"I could feel blood pouring down my face, down my neck."
He said he was afraid to feel the wound, concerned he would find gushing gray matter.
"There was incredible pain in my left hand, and I assumed my two fingers were gone. I felt each of my fingers to make sure they were still there."
He slowly got back up and stumbled through the clearing as Johnston rushed to him. They made their way back to the police cars to wait for medical assistance and police backup.
As he was rushed by ambulance to CVPH Medical Center moments later, Finn was being treated for the bullet wounds that tore off pieces of his scalp, pinky finger, ring finger and forearm.
"I don’t have the full range of motion (in the ring finger) as I did before I was shot by Vladimir," said Finn.
He eventually recovered from the injuries and returned to work on desk duties two months later.
After Finn testified, Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne, who is the special prosecutor in the case, had Finn draw the chase route on a map and then demonstrate the strength of the hand-held flashlight in the darkened courtroom.
Afterward, defense attorney Mark McCormick gently probed Finn to see if it were possible for someone to be lying down unnoticed on the truck floor or possible for another person to have jumped from the truck and fled in the opposite direction as the troopers raced across the lawn.
Finn and Johnston both said they saw only one occupant in the car.
Throughout Tuesday’s testimony, Kulakov, 49, sat quietly and occasionally whispered softly to his attorney, sporadically taking notes.
ITEMS IN TRUCK
As the afternoon wore on, another trooper confirmed the chain of evidence of the stolen truck when it was initially taken into police custody, and the final witness, a former forensic unit investigator, testified to the initial investigation of the Tom Miller Road property, which began immediately after the shooting.
Investigator Liane Colby vividly described the trail of blood she found at the site hours after the shooting, as well as the GED diploma, legal paperwork, razor, ammunition and toothbrush she later found in the black Eastgate backpack that was resting on top of a mound of garbage in the truck.
Colby also testified about the long rifle, complete with a sharp bayonet, that was found in the truck.
Paul Clyne, a former Albany County district attorney and current New York Prosecutor Training Institute official, assisted Champagne throughout the day with questioning and presenting evidence.
The trial is expected to resume this morning as McCormick begins cross-examination of Colby.
A source close to the case said that earlier this week correction officers found Kulakov in possession of a paper clip that he had allegedly fastened into a makeshift handcuff key.
He is under heavy security and being kept in solitary confinement at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Washington County.
Vladimir Kulakov is facing a 12-count indictment in the criminal trial that started Monday in Clinton County Court.
The charges are: first-degree attempted murder, second-degree attempted murder, aggravated assault on a police officer, two counts of first-degree assault, first-degree criminal use of a firearm, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, two counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, third-degree larceny, third-degree criminal possession of stolen property and fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property.
Kulakov pleaded guilty on April 24 to escape, stemming from an incident on Jan. 5 when he jumped from a Sheriff’s Department vehicle while being held on the current charges. He is now serving a 21/2-to-5-year prison sentence for the escape.