Testimony: Dover man fled police because he feared they’d shoot him

 

DOVER — Struggling to compose himself at times, a 51-year-old Dover man testified at trial Tuesday that he feared for his life when approached by two law enforcement officers with guns pointed at him during an April 4, 2013, incident in downtown Dover.

The officers were attempting to take James A. Wilson into custody as a search warrant with his name on it was ongoing nearby.

Fearing he would be shot in the face, Mr. Wilson said in Kent County Superior Court that he panicked and drove away from the officers, which resulted in his vehicle crashing into a truck at the intersection of South New and West North streets a few seconds later, injuring two people.

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James Wilson

Mr. Wilson is facing charges of second-degree assault, possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony, disregarding a police officer’s signal, driving on the wrong side of the road, running a red light, and unreasonable speed.

The defendant acknowledged he knew at least one of the approaching cops was a Dover Police Department officer.

While police said they identified themselves and gave orders, Mr. Wilson testified they did not say anything after pulling up in an unmarked black Ford Crown Victoria police car.

“What am I supposed to do?,” he asked from the witness stand, later saying his goal “was to get away from police officers with guns.”

Mr. Wilson said he arrived at the area after receiving a call that police were at his “Many Things” business at 239 W. Loockerman Street, and feared that his fiancée had possibly been robbed.

After dropping off a friend at the business and parking his car, Mr. Wilson said he saw the man handcuffed and remained at his car before being spotted by a police officer.

The trial was in recess by 4:30 p.m., and Judge Jeffrey Clark instructed the jury of 12 women, two men to be prepared for a resumption at 9:30 a.m. today in the Kent County Courthouse.

The driver of the Chevrolet pickup truck struck by Mr. Wilson’s vehicle testified that he needed six staples to his head immediately after the accident and transport to Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital; two protruding discs with tears that still require physical therapy and chiropractic attention remain almost three years later.

The pickup truck was a total loss, the man said, describing his experience as the “truck got slammed. I got T-boned by a car” while driving home from work with a passenger who also suffered non-life threatening injuries.

Incident unfolded quickly

Dover Police Detective Peter Martinek testified that while the incident happened in quick fashion, he could “comprehend what was going on.”

The officer said he pulled an unmarked black Crown Victoria to the bumper of Mr. Wilson’s Gold Alero, before he saw the defendant put the vehicle in reverse, hit a tree and building while traveling through a parking lot back onto southbound New Street and then collide with another vehicle proceeding at the intersection of North Street.

While Det. Martinek said he did not know how fast Wilson’s vehicle was traveling, he believed it was over the posted 25 mph limit based on vehicle damage.

Mr. Wilson did “not brake or slow down at all,” Det. Martinek said.

The defendant said he looked through his back window while driving away and saw guns still pointed at him, compounding his concerns just before the crash.

Under questioning by defense lawyer John Garey, the detective said there was a one-story brick building at an intersection corner that Mr. Wilson approached. The officer said it was a clear day with “no obstructions whatsoever.”

The officer said the weapons were drawn based on the elements of the search warrant indicating that weapons could possibly be involved which is “a practice that all police departments use.”

No shots were fired, he said.

In the afternoon, Deputy Attorney Generel Greg Babowal informed the court that the state would not continue prosecuting two counts of leaving the scene of an accident, and single counts of resisting arrest and criminal mischief against Mr. Wilson.

Also dropped were third-degree assault and failure to yield right of way charges.

Self-representation mulled

The morning began with Mr. Wilson indicating he wanted to represent himself at trial, maintaining that although “Mr. Garey is a great lawyer” there was disagreement regarding the defense strategy to pursue.

Judge Clark conducted a question and answer session with Mr. Wilson to determine if he fully understood the potential ramifications of self defense and at one point said, “Quite frankly, I don’t believe you should represent yourself.”

About 30 minutes into the session, Mr. Wilson acknowledged to the court that he had decided to have Mr. Garey serve as his defense counsel.

Mr. Babowal told the court that a modified plea offer was made after a Monday suppression hearing, and involved guilty pleas to second-degree assault and possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony.

For that, a two year minimum mandatory sentence was applicable, along with consideration as a non-habitual status and presentence investigation.

Mr. Wilson did not commit to the deal, and the defense cited arrangements that the defendant needed to make for the care of his 83-year-old father.

A request for a non-jury trial was denied by Judge Clark, who noted that he had heard a significant amount of testimony at the suppression hearing and Mr. Wilson should be tried “by a jury of his peers.”

After Mr. Garey stated that his client was “inclined” to take the plea, Judge Clark asked directly “Is there a plea agreement or not?”

No commitment was made, and Judge Clark ordered a recess as the process of selecting a jury began. Within approximately 90 minutes, the jury was selected and the trial start was scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

Earlier, the judge noted that the case was 491 days from the arrest, and 431 from the indictment, and questioned why there was no agreement on Monday.

Plea deals discussed

On Monday, the state apparently initially offered a plea deal that involved eight years minimum mandatory sentencing.

After the suppression hearing, however, the offer was adjusted; no deal was accepted by Judge Clark’s 4:30 p.m. deadline, though Mr. Garey remained in communication with the AG’s office regarding a plea.

Mr. Babowal said the plea deal dropped its minimum mandatory sentence because of what was said in court Monday “was compelling enough information to make that deal.”

Mr. Garey said “When the new plea offer was made we jumped right on it … I don’t think anybody here has been trying to unduly delay the process.”

The defense attorney said he believed the matter could have been resolved “rather quickly” but Mr. Babowal need authorization from the Attorney General’s office to complete it.

Judge Clark also noted that Mr. Babowal has two other cases more than 400 days old scheduled for this week.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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