Opening statements begin in cop trial

May 5, 2010 7:55:11 AM PDT
Robbie Tolan has a bullet in his liver from a shooting two years ago. Now, the police officer who shot him in his front yard in front of his family is about to go on trial.

The jury is seated and opening statements began today. The question for those jurors is, was that police officer justified when he pulled the trigger?

The case involves a white sergeant with the Bellaire Police Department and a black Bellaire resident. It brought a lot of scrutiny to Bellaire Police Department, alleging racial profiling, but the defense in this case says it's all about an officer in a very stressful situation.

Terri Muniz grew up in Bellaire and as she waters the lawn and gazes across the street, she cannot forget what happened December 31, 2008. Her unarmed neighbor was shot by Bellaire police.

"You have something like that in your neighborhood happening, you wonder how something like that could happen," Muniz said.

The case received national attention. Minor League player 23-year-old Robert Tolan, son of a former Major League star, returned to his family's Bellaire home in his own SUV with his cousin late one night.

That's when they were confronted by Bellaire PD Sgt. Jeff Cotton.

Cotton claimed they were in a stolen vehicle and ordered them on the ground. When Tolan's mother came out of the house defending them, she said she was thrown up against the wall by Cotton. And when Tolan moved from the ground to tell the officer to leave his mother alone, he was shot by the 10-year veteran.

The bullet is still lodged in Tolan's liver.

Days later, local activists organized a demonstration on the steps of Bellaire PD, alleging racial profiling at its worst.

But now with a jury selected, testimony in the criminal trial begins Wednesday, and attorneys from both sides are weighing in.

"They will realize that Jeff acted as a reasonable and well-trained police officer, responded in a very stressful and dangerous situation," Cotton's attorney, Paul Aman said.

"I don't see how that's possible since everyone here agrees that Robbie was innocent unless (Cotton's) training was to shoot innocent people," Goeffrey Berg, who's representing Tolan, said. "I trust the jury. The jury is going to have an opportunity to listen to the evidence and make a decision and I trust what the jury is going to do."

In fact, residents living on the family's street say this is a case they'll be watching closely.

"In terms of police and what happens when they confront an individual, and when things go bad, somebody ends up getting hurt," Muniz said.

Cotton, who is on paid administrative leave, faces a charge of aggravated assault by a peace officer.

With the bullet still lodged in his liver, Tolan requires frequent updates by doctors. However, he is expected to play minor league baseball again.


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