Prosecutors: Bellaire officer panicked in shooting

May 5, 2010 3:52:40 PM PDT
Was it racism, or self defense? That's the question being asked in the trial of a Bellaire police sergeant who shot an unarmed man in front of his own home.

Sergeant Jeffrey Cotton is charged with aggravated assault by a public servant in the shooting of Robert Tolan just over a year ago.

Bellaire police officer John Edwards was the only witness jury members heard from Wednesday morning. It was Officer Edwards who first reported Tolan's black Suburban as suspicious. Tolan was later non-fatally shot by Sgt. Cotton.

Officer Edwards drove by the SUV, testifying it was parked in the street and he considered that unusual for Belliare. It was just before 2am on December 31, 2008.

Prosecutor Clint Greenwood asked Edwards, "When you passed by, neither one bolted or ran?"

"No, sir," answered Edwards.

The prosecutor then asked what they did next. Edwards answered that they began walking toward the house.

Officer Edwards admitted he entered the license plate incorrectly. When it came back as a stolen SUV, Edwards took action.

"I yelled, 'Get on the ground. Put your hands up,'" testified Edwards. "They were carrying brown bags."

Those brown bags were from a fast food restaurant, the jury heard in later testimony. Edwards testified Tolan and his cousin did not comply with police commands and became belligerent. Sgt. Cotton arrived a few minutes later. Officer Edwards testified he heard Cotton's weapon fire, but did not witness the shooting.

The defense maintains Cotton was following police procedure and made it clear to the jury Officer Edwards also acted appropriately . The prosecution asked Edwards why he needed backup, why he couldn't control Tolan.

"You would have had to holster your weapon to search them. Would that have been safe?" asked the defense attorney.

"No, sir," answered Edwards.

Later in the week, Robbie Tolan and his family are expected to testify. If convicted, Sgt. Cotton could face a wide range of punishment, anywhere from five years to life in prison.


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