Trial for man shot by Md. officer
A 32-year-old man shot five times by a police officer finds himself in court today -- as a defendant.
Jurors are expected to begin deliberations today in the case against Ingham "Andre" DeFreitas, who is accused with charging a Montgomery County officer and trying to take his gun nine months ago outside a large home north of Potomac.
"It doesn’t make sense, but it happened," prosecutor Stephen Chaikin said during opening statements Monday. "He assaulted the officer, both by physically touching him and by the creation of apprehension or fear when he was leaping towards him … He tried to take that officer's gun. What could the officer do at that point? The officer had no choice. He shot the defendant."
Sitting less than 20 feet away at the defense table, DeFreitas slowly shook his head several times. He must wear a heavy sling to support his right arm, which remains badly damaged from the shooting.
DeFreitas’s attorney, Rebecca Nitkin, told jurors the encounter spun out of control because an inexperienced officer didn't communicate with DeFreitas, and was too aggressive from the start of the encounter.
In her opening statements, she showed jurors a picture of the officer, Kurt Colson, 27, who is 6’3” tall and 150 pounds, and told them he is nice guy.
"We don't stand here and say he has a bad heart," Nitkin said. "We don't stand here before you and say he woke up in the morning and said, 'I'm going to shoot somebody today.' But we contend that he messed up, and we’re stuck here to cover his behind."
Jurors heard from six witnesses Monday.
First was the officer, who offered a detailed account of why he fired his gun. Also speaking were five residents of the neighborhood – including four members of the same family -- who saw at least parts of DeFreitas’s behavior.
Sometime after 3 p.m. on Sept. 28, DeFreitas drove through a cul-de-sac along Indian Run Drive, and continued up a long driveway. (Nitkin suggested he mistakenly thought the driveway was a continuation of Indian Run.)
DeFreitas tried to turn his car around, but the tires stuck in wet grass. He hit the gas, but only got the tires more stuck. Patrick Winger, a resident of the home at the end of the driveway, came out and asked him what he was doing.
"I was being chased," DeFreitas told him, according to Winger’s testimony.
Winger said he didn't want to stick around and see who was chasing him, so he went back into his house, locked the doors, and told his wife and two sons to stay inside. Police were called.
Winger stayed in the garage area, but his sons and wife could see part of the encounter from an upstairs window. Constance Winger testified said that after the officer approached the car, she saw DeFreitas get out of the car and go after Colson. He "leapt forward toward the officer," she testified.
Her sons were perhaps less useful to the prosecution. One recalled that DeFreitas wore a Los Angeles Lakers uniform, the other a Washington Wizards uniform. One said he that Colson had his gun drawn as he approached the car, contradicting Colson's account.
A next-door neighbor said she saw the car stuck along the driveway, and thought about going out to help. Then she saw the officer approach, and saw DeFraites charging at the officer. But this witness acknowledged on cross-examination she didn’t see DeFreitas actually grab the officer's gun.
The officer, Colson, said everything happened very quickly.
He said DeFreitas wouldn’t listen to him and, as he approached the car, DeFreitas was rummaging around for something. Colson said he got DeFreitas out of the car and put his hand on DeFreitas in an effort to search him.
He said DeFreitas spun around, grabbed him by his collar and the top of his protective vest, and pushed him backwards. Colson said he was able to push back and separate himself.
Colson said he drew his gun and got DeFeitas to put his hands on top of his head. Colson said he lowered his gun, but DeFreitas lowered his hands, putting them near his waist. Then DeFreitas ran towards him and eventually grabbed the gun, Colson said.
"I had it by the grip and he had it by the barrel," Colson said.
The officer said he was able to pull the gun back, and he fired two rounds.
"He kept coming at me at a full gallop," Colson said.
The officer said he fired more rounds, which caused DeFreitas to slump over on the grass.
In her cross-examination, Nitkin confronted Colson with statements he'd made to investigators last year, when he seemed to describe the gun tussle more as DeFreitas slapping at the weapon rather than grabbing it. Quoting a statement he made back then, Nitkin said, "He slapped at my gun, deflecting the barrel down."
Nitkin also established that prior to the gun encounter, Colson didn't introduce himself or verbally explain that he was willing to escalate his use of force.
She asked him about using a Taser, the kind carried by other Montgomery officers.
Colson said he hadn't taken the classes needed to become certified to use a Taser, and wasn't carrying one.
-- Dan Morse
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