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Police show solidarity at hearing Courtroom is filled with officers as suspect in shooting of 2 comrades goes before judge

Varner Harris Jr. walked into City Court on Tuesday for what should have been a typical pretrial hearing. What he saw was anything but typical.

An estimated 150 Buffalo police officers -- including one of the two Harris is accused of shooting last week -- were joined by other area officers, filling Judge David M. Manz's courtroom to show their support for their comrades.

The massive showing by uniformed officers was a display of police "solidarity," said Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson, who attended the hearing. "It shows the public we all stand behind our own."

The show of unity was on display later Tuesday when more than 100 citizens crowded the same corner where Officers Carl E. Andolina and Patricia A. Parete were shot exactly a week earlier, held lit candles and denounced violence in the city.

Dozens of police officers from various agencies and firefighters also attended the show of support for the two wounded officers.

"It makes them feel a great sense of pride of people here supporting their fellow officers and their mission," Gipson said.

As Harris was brought into Manz's second-floor courtroom shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday, he looked at the standing-room-only crowd of uniformed men and women and lowered his head.

Harris, 19, is accused of shooting Andolina and Parete on Dec. 5 after the pair responded to a report of a fight on Elmwood Avenue near West Chippewa Street.

Parete, the first female officer shot in the line of duty in Buffalo, and Andolina were riding together on special detail downtown investigating a rash of car break-ins when Harris allegedly shot them after being confronted at about 9 p.m. on Elmwood near Chippewa.

Parete was hit twice, with her bulletproof vest blocking a round aimed at her chest. But a second bullet pierced her face and tore into her spine. Harris shot the 6-foot, 7-inch Andolina three times in the neck, arm and chest, but the burly officer tackled him and held him until other officers arrived.

Defense attorney Paul Gordon Dell on Tuesday waived a pre-grand jury evidentiary hearing.

After the brief court session, Dell, a veteran defense lawyer assigned to the case by Manz, said his jailed client was "intimidated" by the crowd of police. Christopher J. Belling, chief prosecutor in the case, said grand jury action will take place within the next 45 days, but he declined to comment further.

Andolina remains off-duty with a bullet still lodged in his neck, but he attended the hearing. He did not comment afterward. But Gipson said he was thrilled to see Andolina insist on coming for the court session to possibly testify.

"We just pray for her recovery," Gipson said of the hospitalized Parete.

Harris is being held without bail.

Tuesday night's vigil began at the same time and location where Parete and Andolina were shot exactly a week earlier. There, citizens spoke out against violence and held lighted candles to honor the wounded officers and all of the city's police officers and firefighters.

Blue balloons strung at the vigil swayed in the unseasonably mild December breeze, and signs of support for the police were hung on a nearby fence declaring that the Buffalo community and police "bleed blue together."

"I think their suffering has touched us all and brought us here this evening," said Susan Jarvis. "As unfortunate as the event is, I hope it is something that brings this community together and makes us more peaceful."

Added Marc L. Fuller, chairman of the Stop the Violence Coalition: "It takes certain incidents to turn things around, and I believe that's what this is. . . . Look out here, look at these people -- it's a united front."

Those gathered represented a cross-section of Buffalo in terms of race, gender and age. That wasn't lost on Gipson or his officers who were gathered there, he said.

"It's amazing," Gipson said. "I hope we can take this spirit and this energy and stretch it beyond this day. It shows that the public is becoming more aware and united against violence and that it can impact them as well as it can for us."

Family and friends of Parete have set up a fund for people interested in making contributions to her to aid her and her loved ones during her recovery.

Donations should be sent to: Patricia A. Parete Fund, Box 682, Kenmore, NY 14217.

They also are getting ready to establish a telephone line with a recorded message that will list any benefit events or fundraisers that are being done with the knowledge and approval of the family.

"We appreciate everyone's concern and support in this difficult time," read a statement from the family's attorney.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com and tpignataro@buffnews.com

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