Police believe gunman shot to kill

B y Jaime Thomas

A Granville man is dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after a standoff with police that began Friday night and ended late Saturday morning.

The 12-hour ordeal began when 26-year-old Jonathan Hyatt’s family called police to their Irving Avenue home because he was acting unruly at 9:59 p.m. Officer T.J. Zovistoski was the first to arrive on scene and not knowing who had a gun, immediately began challenging the caller and her son on the front lawn.

He heard a shot ring out, but did not realize it had penetrated Officer Paul Zinn’s vehicle through the hood and into the steel engine, stopping the vehicle. Zinn, who was driving to the scene on Irving Avenue, reported hearing a sound like a clap of thunder, but did not immediately realize his patrol car had been hit.

Upon hearing the shot, Zovistoski sent the family members for cover and sought cover himself, and Zinn rolled out of his vehicle and also found cover. Hyatt, meanwhile, had moved to the other side of the attic where he was stationed, and he shot Zovistoski’s car on Columbus Avenue. The shot went through the windshield, struck the rearview mirror, went through the steering wheel and shattered the driver’s side window.

Sergeant David Williams said both officers are lucky to have escaped unscathed.

“Both shots were intended to kill a police officer; both shots were aimed to strike the driver. The trajectory was such that if Paul had been half a second faster, he would’ve been hit straight on. You’re talking miniscule amounts that shot was off by,” Williams said. “T.J. got lucky because he was already out of the car. For some reason his attention was drawn to T.J.’s car; otherwise, he (Hyatt) might’ve shot Paul again.”

Williams said it is lucky no one else was harmed, as Hyatt was a trained gunner and marksman in the military, who was “certainly trying to shoot police.” Williams said the suspect’s high-powered Remington Woodsmaster 750 rifle would be capable of shooting accurately at least 600 yards away.

Soon after the second shot, at 10:16 p.m., Zovistoski heard a third shot and saw a flash of debris go through the roof of the house near the chimney. Police “firmly believe” this is the shot with which Hyatt took his own life.

At that point, however, police did not know exactly what was happening inside the house, so they began trying to escort neighbors safely away from the area. Williams said some people left, while others refused to go.

“They maintained the perimeter; they evacuated the neighborhood as best as they could,” he said. Hyatt’s family told Zovistoski they believed he was distraught, and said he had been throwing items in the attic and down the stairway to the attic to barricade himself in. They said he had moved his guns upstairs earlier in the day and said they thought he had 150 armor-piercing rounds.

Within an hour of the beginning of the incident, the Washington County Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team (SERT) was on scene, as well as a number of other responders. Various officers and a crisis negotiator tried throughout the night to contact Hyatt by phone and bullhorn, but he did not respond, and monitoring of his cell phone and computer showed no activity during the standoff.

Throughout the night, police worked from the Washington County Mobile Command Vehicle, and at 8 a.m. the New York State Police Special Operations Response Team came to relieve the SERT responders. A robotic camera they sent into the house was not able to mount the blocked stairway to the attic, but officers were able to throw another robot in the window of the third-floor attic, which located Hyatt, who appeared to be down, at 10:15 a.m.

Police then entered the room and confirmed that Hyatt was deceased.

“Perfect storm” leads to shooting

There was no note in the attic or anywhere in the house, and after searching police found no indication of premeditation. Williams said a “perfect storm” of circumstances led Hyatt to the situation he was in.

“It was a combination of his history, PTSD; he had a traumatic brain injury in the war, and two weeks previous he quit taking his Zoloft cold turkey. That absolutely played a part,” Williams said, explaining that doing so can lead to suicidal tendencies and severe depression.

Additionally, the day before the incident, Hyatt came to the police station to report he had been the victim in a domestic dispute with his girlfriend, but subsequent investigation revealed it might have been the other way around. Williams believes their split also contributed to his behavior.

“He made a comment to his family that no one was taking his guns. It became a police issue because he felt police were going to take his weapons,” Williams said. He said Hyatt had sought treatment with the Veteran’s Association and had recently completed an electrical contractor’s course at Hudson Valley Community College.

Hyatt seemed “positive”

He doesn’t think Hyatt had a personal problem with local police; rather, he was in a distraught place. The two had a couple of conversations at the end of May, in which Hyatt seemed “pretty positive” and expressed atonement for trouble he had caused in the past.

“He wasn’t suicidal then; he was wanting to move forward in life and wanted to be a positive influence,” Williams said.

Granville Police Chief Ernie Bassett echoed Williams’ sentiments that he’s grateful only one person was harmed in the standoff.

“It just goes to show you go to routine calls all the time, but you never know what you’re getting into. The main thing is I’m just grateful our guys didn’t get hurt,” Bassett said.

Williams said he is grateful to all the police officers and assisting agencies, who responded to the incident. In addition to Zovistoski, Zinn and Williams, Officers Ryan Pedone, Aron Bassett and Marc Morrill were on scene for Granville, as were the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, the New York State Police, the Fair Haven Police Department, the Granville Engine and Hose Company, the Granville Hook and Ladder Company and the Hartford Fire Department.

Williams asked that everyone respect the privacy of the officers and their families, who are trying to move on from the event, and refrain from asking too many questions. While he said the officers don’t mean to seem rude, most don’t want to discuss what happened with the public.

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