07/28/09 — Trial questions officers actions

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Trial questions officers actions

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on July 28, 2009 1:46 PM

The trial of a man charged with assault with a firearm on a police officer began Monday in Wayne County District Court.

The two officers involved, Goldsboro police officers Orlando Rosario and Philip French, have been under fire by the NAACP for their handling of the March 29 incident at Alpha Arms apartments.

The incident is the focus of the trial, and both officers have testified in their defense under questioning by defense attorney Geoff Hulse. District Attorney Branny Vickory is representing the state.

Rosario, a training officer at the time, and his trainee, 20-year-old officer French, had responded to Alpha Arms apartments to serve a warrant on Tavares Allen, 17, of John Court.

A number of people were outside at Alpha Arms, and Rosario initially tried to make the crowd disperse by making up a story about an animal complaint, police testified.

The two officers then approached their target, Allen, and began having a discussion with him, they testified.

French testified that Allen gave his middle name to police, but the two officers were "100 percent sure" that Allen was the man they were looking for.

When Allen learned he was wanted, he started running, the officers testified. French ran after Allen to try to arrest him, tackling him after less than 20 yards.

After the officers had tackled Allen, a crowd of as many as 75 people started to gather around the two officers and the suspect, the officers testified. Rosario responded first by threatening the crowd with pepper spray in an attempt to get them to disperse, he testified. It did not work, Rosario said.

During that time, French, the 20-year-old officer trainee, was struggling to arrest Allen, police testified.

French testified that Allen had his arms underneath his stomach, trying to resist arrest, and French did not know if the man could be armed.

While French tried to make the arrest, Rosario also unholstered his weapon and held it at "low ready," pointing it at the crowd and again asking them to disperse. French and Rosario testified that the threat of a gun also had no effect on the crowd.

Many people in the crowd had cell phone cameras out, and told police they were taking video of the event in anticipation of complaining to the local branch of the NAACP.

Rosario testified that as the crowd approached, many of the people were making physical contact with him, "bumping into (him)."

When Rosario realized that French was not able to get handcuffs on Allen, he switched places with French.

At that time, Rosario testified he gave an instruction to the young officer.

Defense attorney Hulse took issue with the instruction.

"Do you have any recollection of using profanity on this occasion?" Hulse asked.

Responded Rosario, "I said to officer French 'shoot (anyone in the crowd) in the (expletive) head if he gets any closer. Shoot whoever comes to me in an aggressive manner again.'"

The district attorney then questioning Rosario about the instruction.

"Now, this reference to 'Shoot the (expletive) in the head, you addressed that towards French. Who was French supposed to shoot in the head, if the crowd kept coming on?"

"Whoever comes close again," Rosario answered.

Vickory said he wondered about the training officer's judgment in that situation.

"My concern, I'm asking you about now, is telling a 20-year-old officer to shoot the (expletive) in the head. Did you intend for somebody to get shot in the head?"

"No," Rosario answered.

Vickory continued the line of questioning.

"Was there some agreement, when you said that, that you didn't mean for that to happen?" Vickory asked.

Rosario said he felt he could trust the 20-year-old French to make the right decision.

"We worked together for several weeks before that," Rosario testified. "You kind of got to be able to trust each other, and read between the lines, and play the crowd, if you will."

Vickory asked if the felony charges filed against the defendant could have been a result of the NAACP complaint.

Officers, including Sgt. Trey Ball, said they were unaware of the NAACP complaint when they upgraded charges against Allen to felonies.

The felony charges were related to Allen allegedly trying to grab officer French's gun.

Police testified they knew French's holstered gun had been reached for by Allen because the ammunition clip had fallen to the ground.

French testified that it would be very hard to remove the ammunition clip if Allen had not been trying to remove the gun.

Testimony was expected to continue at 3 p.m. today. Judge Charles P. Gaylor is presiding.