Man gets 18 months for assaulting cop
A Montgomery County man who assaulted a police officer as part of a chaotic altercation in which the man was shot five times was sentenced to 18 months in jail Tuesday.
Ingham “Andre” DeFreitas, 32, also faces five years of probation. A hearing on the matter Tuesday was as contentious as the case has always been.
The prosecution said DeFreitas had himself to blame for getting shot, and asked the judge for a longer sentence to send a message. "You cannot attack or assault a uniformed police officer. This is not a bar fight," Stephen Chaikin said.
DeFreitas’s attorney, Rebecca Nitkin, countered that her client, who was unarmed, was shot because of a systemic lack of training at the Montgomery County Police Department and an increase in use of force by officers.
Her assertions were greeted coolly by Circuit Judge Michael Algeo.
"This is not a 1983 civil rights violation or trial,” Algeo said. "This is not about police brutality or police conduct. This is about Mr. DeFreitas who was convicted by a jury of assault in the second degree. So I want the focus to be on that."
Algeo also pointed to DeFreitas’s criminal history and his recent drug tests showing he'd repeatedly smoked marijuana. "That speaks volumes to me," Algeo said.
DeFreitas’s injuries still are apparent. He wears a sling around one of his arms. Bailiffs had trouble handcuffing him before leading him out of court. When part of the sling was removed, his hand appeared to go limp. They eventually led him out without handcuffing him, as he showed no sign of resisting them.
At DeFreitas's trial in June, he was convicted of the assault, a misdemeanor, but acquitted of the more serious charge of trying to disarm the officer. Jurors said after the verdict there wasn't enough consistent testimony about whether DeFreitas was trying to grab the officer's gun or push it away.
On Sept. 28, DeFreitas drove his car up a long driveway in the Darnestown area, apparently under the belief he was being chased. He got the car caught in mud trying to turn around. A homeowner called the police.
Officer Kurt Colson, less than two years on the job at the time, responded. He testified that DeFreitas didn’t listen to his commands and after DeFreitas got out of his car, he kept reaching into his pockets before he charged him. Colson said he fired his gun because DeFreitas was trying to get the gun, and he feared for his life.
Neighbors who saw all or part of the altercation were called to the stand.
In seeking to make Tuesday's hearing about broader issues, Nitkin brought into the courtroom clients from thee previous cases, and told the judge they were victims of excessive force by Montgomery police. "My office is the walking wounded," she said. "All these people, they were all beaten up."
In interviews after the hearing, the three said they suffered serious injuries to their face, leg and wrist, respectively. A detailed account of their cases couldn't be immediately verified.
As for DeFreitas, Nitkin told the judge, he did not act as violently as police made him out be acting.
"Where's the violence, when he was the one who was shot five times?” Nitkin said.
In an interview after the hearing, Cpl. Dan Friz, a police spokesman and one-time instructor of use-of-force at the department’s training academy, called Nitkin’s remarks off the mark.
Friz said police candidates spend more than six of their 26 weeks in training on use of force and survival. That training covers past events, police policy and state and federal law. He called the training among the best of its kind in the nation.
So far this year, Friz said, the department’s internal affairs office has received 52 formal complaints, a category that includes complaints of excessive force. That is down from 63 at this time last year, and a small fraction of the more than 1 million interactions that police officers have with people every year, Friz said.
"There's no question, because it is human nature, that there are cops there who are heavy handed, and the department will deal with it appropriately," Friz said. "But by and large it's not a problem."
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