Police Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton not guilty

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    Police Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton not guilty

    After Deliberating Four Hours, Jury Finds Bellaire Police Sergeant Not Guilty | InstantNewsWestU.com

    First round won!

    After Deliberating Four Hours, Jury Finds Bellaire Police Sergeant Not Guilty

    After deliberating about four hours, a Harris County jury found Bellaire Police Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton not guilty of aggravated assault in the shooting of Bellaire resident Robbie Tolan on the lawn of the Tolan family home on Dec. 31, 2008.

    Cotton maintained he thought Tolan was reaching for a weapon and fired in self-defense.

    Prosecutors maintained Cotton acted recklessly in the shooting.

    As the verdict in the week-long trial was announced, the courtroom was filled with members of both the Tolan and Cotton families, as well as a number of Cotton’s fellow officers.

    Leaving the courtroom after hearing the “not guilty” verdict, Cotton said he was relieved the trial was over.

    “I’m glad that it’s over,” Cotton said on his way out of the courtroom. “I just want to get back to work.”

    Cotton’s defense attorney, Paul Aman, echoed his client’s comments.

    “We’re very, very happy,” Aman said. “Jeff was never guilty of these charges.”

    Aman said Cotton leaned over and said “thank you” when he heard the not guilty verdict.

    “He was devastated when he found out Tolan didn’t have a gun,” Aman said. “Is he happy he was shot? Of course not.”

    Cotton has been on administrative leave since the shooting and will know more about returning to duty after he has an opportunity to meet with Bellaire Police Chief Randall Mack, Aman said.

    Assistant DA Donna Hawkins spoke on behalf of prosecutor Clint Greenwood, who did not make himself available for interviews.

    “We respect their decision,” Hawkins said. “The family’s been through a rough time.”

    The Tolan family issued a statement through their lawyers, Geoff Berg and George Gibson. The family still has a multi-million dollar lawsuit pending against Cotton and the City of Bellaire over the shooting.

    “We are obviously disappointed that the jury did not convict Jeffrey Cotton. While we respectfully disagree with the decision they came to, we thank the jury for its service,” the statement said. “We hope that change will soon come to Bellaire so that people of all backgrounds feel safe living, working and traveling through the city. That hasn’t happened yet, so we have to keep fighting.”

    The statement also sent a clear message the litigation over Tolan’s shooting is not over.

    “The fight now moves to federal court. There the defendants and charges are different and the standard is not the same,” the statement said. “We remain hopeful that our family may still find justice.”
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    VIP Member Array ccw9mm's Avatar
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    Got details? Anyone know what the situation was all about?

    Without any details about the situation, it's hard to tell whether this is a good or bad judgment. Two things are known: a police sergeant was there; and he claimed the guy he shot was "going for" a weapon.

    Beyond those two things, we know nothing at all about the situation. Such as ... why the engagement was occurring int he first place, how the officer came to be in the home, what the position and movement of the players were in the room, what led the officer to believe the guy was armed, and what the guy did to make the officer think he was moving to acquire/draw a weapon.
    Your best weapon is your brain. Don't leave home without it.
    Thoughts: Justifiable self defense (A.O.J.).
    Explain: How does disarming victims reduce the number of victims?
    Reason over Force: The Gun is Civilization (Marko Kloos).
    NRA, GOA, OFF, ACLDN.

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    Addendum

    Figured most folk here would have been following it.


    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/07/us...ml?_r=1&ref=us

    Police Officer Is Charged in Shooting of Texas Man

    By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
    Published: April 6, 2009

    HOUSTON — A Harris County grand jury indicted a police sergeant Monday in the shooting of a young man outside his home on New Year’s Eve. The case has attracted widespread attention because the victim’s family accused the police of racial profiling.

    Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton, a 39-year-old veteran in the Bellaire Police Department, was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant in the shooting of Robert Tolan, a 23-year-old waiter. The sergeant is white, and Mr. Tolan is black. Mr. Tolan, who was shot in his driveway while his parents looked on, survived, though a bullet pierced his right lung and lodged in his liver.

    Just before the shooting, Sergeant Cotton and another officer had forced Mr. Tolan and his cousin to lie face down on the ground at gunpoint after they had gotten out of their car. The officers believed the car had been stolen, but it turned out to belong to Mr. Tolan, who is the son of Bobby Tolan, a former major league baseball player, and aspires to be a baseball player.

    “The Tolans are the only African-American family on the block,” said a lawyer for the family, Geoffrey Berg. “Bellaire engages in racial profiling, and this is the logical result of that policy.”

    The Bellaire city manager, Bernie Satterwhite, rejected that assertion.

    “There is nothing about the indictment or any investigation which even suggests that race played any role in the stop or Sergeant Cotton’s actions when he arrived as a backup officer,” Mr. Satterwhite said, reading a prepared statement.

    David Donahue, a member of Sergeant Cotton’s legal team, said the officer had fired only after Mr. Tolan leaped up and attacked him. “He felt he was in immediate danger,” he said.

    As the Tolan family recounts the story, Mr. Tolan and his cousin obeyed an order from the first officer on the scene, John Edwards, to lay on the ground. As Sergeant Cotton arrived in a second patrol car, Bobby Tolan and his wife, Marion, came out of the house in their pajamas.

    Mrs. Tolan tried to tell Sergeant Cotton that the police had made a mistake — that it was her son’s car, Mr. Berg said. The sergeant grabbed her by the arm and threw her against a garage door, the family says. As Robbie Tolan tried to rise to defend his mother, Sergeant Cotton fired at least three times, hitting him once in the chest, Mr. Berg said.


    Bellaire Police Officer Jeffrey Cotton Charged | Houston Criminal Lawyer and DWI Blog ? Scheiner Law Group, P.C.

    Bellaire Police Officer Jeffrey Cotton Charged
    April 7th, 2009 The New York Times reports that local police officer Jeffrey Cotton has been charged in the shooting of Robert Tolan. This story has made nationwide news and has even been the subject of an episode of Real Sports by Bryant Gumbel.

    Jeffrey Cotton has an arraignment setting in the 232nd District Court of Harris County, Texas. Cotton was indicted on April 6, 2008 for Aggravated Assault by a Public Servant. This charge is a First Degree Felony and Mr. Cotton faces 5 years to 99 years and/or up to a $10,000 fine.

    Most people know the story. Robert Tolan, 23 year old black male was driving his own car to his parents home in an affluent, predominately white neighborhood. For whatever reason Bellaire Police began to follow Tolan and ran his license. The officers misread the license plate by one digit and the car came up as stolen. When Tolan pulled into his driveway, police approached him with guns drawn. Hearing the commotoing, Tolan’s parents came outside in their pajamas. Robert Tolan’s father, Bobby Tolan, a former major league baseball player, tried to explain to the officers that Robert was his son and this was his residence. Furthermore, Bobby Tolan explained that it was his car his son was driving. Bobby Tolan is forced against his vehicle. Meanwhile, Robert Tolan and his cousin are on the ground as ordered by the police. At some point, and officer grabs Mrs. Tolan and pushes her against the garage. Robert Tolan stands up and says, “get your ******* hands off my mom.”

    This is when the shot rings out. Robert Tolan received a single gun shot wound to his stomach. Disgustingly, the officer put Tolan’s parents in the back of separate police vehicles while EMS attended to Tolan.

    So here we are. I think the Bellaire Officer is going to have a tough time justifying his actions. There is no excuse for shooting a man in his own front yard in front of his family, absent a threat of deadly force.

    This whole story stinks. The police had no reason to run the license plate in the first place absent a traffic infraction or some suspicous reason, other than the color of the occupant’s skin, that drew the officer’s attention. Furthermore, when the owner of the residence tells you its his son and the family’s car, the guns should go back into the holsters. That would have been a good time to apologize to the Tolan family, not shoot their son.
    Jury selection begins in Bellaire police officer's assault trial | khou.com | Houston News, Local News, Breaking News, Weather | Crime

    Jury selection begins in Bellaire police officer's assault trial

    by Brian Rogers / The Houston Chronicle

    khou.com

    Posted on May 4, 2010 at 10:39 AM

    HOUSTON—Jury selection began Tuesday in the aggravated assault trial of Bellaire Police Sgt. Jeff Cotton, accused of shooting Robert Tolan in his parents’ driveway.

    Cotton, 40, is charged with aggravated assault by a public servant. His attorney said the 10-year veteran officer is looking forward to having all of the evidence about the shooting come out.

    "Sgt. Cotton acted as a reasonable police officer would have acted under the circumstances," lawyer Paul Aman said.

    Prosecutors declined to comment Monday.

    The shooting sparked complaints of racial profiling against Cotton and the Bellaire Police Department. Cotton is white, Tolan is black. Cotton has denied Tolan’s race affected his actions, and his lawyer said the officer fired when he thought his life was in danger.

    A consultant hired by the city to compile its annual report to the state on racial profiling later issued a report, concluding there was not enough information in department statistics about arrests and traffic stops to indicate whether Bellaire officers conducted racial profiling. The Houston NAACP blasted the report as flawed.

    The son of former major league player Bobby Tolan, Robert Tolan played baseball for Bellaire High School and was pursuing a professional baseball career at the time of the shooting.

    After getting off work at a restaurant on Dec. 31, 2008, Tolan, then 23, and his cousin were stopped as he parked in his parents’ driveway about 2 a.m. Another officer had dispatchers look up the license plates on Tolan’s sport utility vehicle, but got wrong information, leading him to believe the vehicle was stolen.

    Several officers approached Tolan and his cousin, who were ordered to the ground. As Tolan’s family came out to explain the situation, Tolan’s mother was pushed against a wall, representatives for Tolan’s family have said. When Tolan rose to protest, Cotton fired several times, striking Tolan once in the chest, Tolan’s attorney Geoffrey Berg said.

    "He’s got good days and bad days," Berg said of Tolan. "He’s got a bullet that’s going to be in his body indefinitely."

    Berg said he expects Tolan to testify at Cotton’s trial.

    Berg is representing Tolan and his family in a lawsuit seeking damages from Cotton, another officer, the police chief, mayor and other Bellaire officials. The lawsuit alleges a culture of racism among Bellaire police and says police "engage in unconstitutional racial profiling and discrimination as a matter of policy."

    Berg said the lawsuit has been on hold as the family waits to see what happens in Cotton’s case.

    Cotton, free on $20,000 bond, remains on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the case, Bellaire police officials said.

    This story was brought to you thanks to khou.com's partnership with The Houston Chronicle.
    Bellaire police trainer's testimony: Officer followed training | Houston & Texas News | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle

    Cotton followed his training, trainer testifies
    By BRIAN ROGERS Copyright 2010 HOUSTON CHRONICLE
    May 10, 2010, 11:41AM

    A former Houston police trainer testified this morning that Bellaire police Sgt. Jeff Cotton followed proper procedure in the moments before shooting Robert Tolan, an unarmed 23-year-old in his own driveway in 2008.

    J.W. Conley, an expert witness paid by the defense, told jurors that Cotton and fellow officer John Edwards were trying to secure a “chaotic” scene that included Tolan, his parents and his cousin.

    “You don't have to see a weapon, but you have to explain your actions later,” Conley said of Cotton's belief that Tolan was rising to shoot him.

    Cotton tesitifed Friday that he believed Tolan was pulling a gun from his waistband when he fired three shots, one of which hit Tolan in the chest. Tolan spent three weeks in the hospital.

    Cotton is on trial for aggravated assault by a peace officer, a first degree felony shooting. If he is convicted, he faces a punishment ranging from probation to life in prison.

    “At the moment he pulled the trigger, he was in fear for his life,” Conley said.

    Tolan testified last week that he rose from a prone position to his knee to protest Cotton pushing his mother.

    Tolan and his cousin were returning home in the early morning hours of December 31, 2008, when Edwards drove past the two men who were rummaging in the back seat of their black SUV. Edwards incorrectly entered the license plate number of the sport utilty vehicle in his car's computer. The wrong license plate tracked back to a black car that had been stolen.

    As Tolan and his cousin walked up the driveway to the home they shared with Tolan's parents, Edwards approached the two, gun drawn and ordered them to the ground.

    Hearing a disturbance as they got ready for bed, Tolan's parents went outside to find Tolan and his cousin being put on the ground by a man with a gun.

    testimony showed that Cotton arrived and tried to move Tolan's mother to the edge of the driveway. As he tried to move Marian Tolan, she bristled and said, “Get your hands off of me.”

    Tolan said Cotton pushed his mother in to the garage door and he rose to protest. Cotton said Tolan began to rise while digging in his waistband.

    Cotton then pushed the woman in to the garage door, drew his gun and fired, he said.

    Prosecutor Steve Morris worked to show that Conley was biased because he was paid about $20,000 for his work reviewing the evidence in the case and testifying.

    In asking about Conley's investigation, Morris noted that Conley's conclusions depend on Cotton being honest. He also asked about the ultimate issue in the trial.

    “At the end of the day, he shot someone who was unarmed, didn't he?” Morris said.

    brian.rogers@chron.com
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    Technically, SGT Cotton may be not guilty, but given the public facts in the case, he shouldn't be a police officer. Ever. Anywhere.

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    120mm, hard to say that when none of us actually saw what he saw isn't it? Its dark, you have a gun drawn and are giving commands (expecting them to be obeyed until things are sorted out) and a guy gets up off the ground and starts coming towards you? when you already have (turns out to be faulty) reason to believe that they are already possibly in the commision of a felony?

    If the family had chilled out and let the cops sort things out they could have filed a complaint after it was all over instead of adding chaos to an already chaotic situation.

    No, dont pass judgement unless you are on the jury.
    "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

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    Really?

    The police SGT had all sorts of cues that should've influenced his judgment, which he ignored. At the very, very least, he exercised extremely poor judgment. Noone can dispute that his judgment was wrong, here. I don't think it's too far a leap to assume the race of the victim in this shooting was a heavy factor in his mind.

    Do I think it's criminal? No. In fact, I don't think it should've went to trial.

    I'm predisposed to take the side of LEOs on all sorts of things. However, in the end, it is both a public affairs AND a law enforcement job. I'd call this a public affairs fail.

    SGT Cotton's allowing this situation to go as far as it did demonstrates to me a form of failure I wouldn't tolerate in my own subordinates, or LEO in my community (two different things, btw).

    So, I would've fired his racist butt and had him off my police force in a heartbeat.

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    Distinguished Member Array ErnieNWillis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 120mm View Post
    Really?

    The police SGT had all sorts of cues that should've influenced his judgment, which he ignored. At the very, very least, he exercised extremely poor judgment. Noone can dispute that his judgment was wrong, here. I don't think it's too far a leap to assume the race of the victim in this shooting was a heavy factor in his mind.

    Do I think it's criminal? No. In fact, I don't think it should've went to trial.

    I'm predisposed to take the side of LEOs on all sorts of things. However, in the end, it is both a public affairs AND a law enforcement job. I'd call this a public affairs fail.

    SGT Cotton's allowing this situation to go as far as it did demonstrates to me a form of failure I wouldn't tolerate in my own subordinates, or LEO in my community (two different things, btw).

    So, I would've fired his racist butt and had him off my police force in a heartbeat.


    Why do you assume Sgt Cotton is a racists because he's white and Toland is black? If Toland and his family would have complied and let the officers do their job he would have atleast not been shot. The story around here is Tolands mother came out of the house raising all kinds of and interfering with the investigation. When the officers tried to get her out of the way Toland became belligerent.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 120mm View Post
    ...
    The police SGT had all sorts of cues that should've influenced his judgment, which he ignored. ....

    So, I would've fired his racist butt and had him off my police force in a heartbeat.
    [emphasis added]
    Please explain.

    The initial stop was made by another officer.

    Tolan family recounts the story, Mr. Tolan and his cousin obeyed an order from the first officer on the scene, John Edwards, to lay on the ground.
    No clues for Cotton, yet. He is not there, yet.

    Then the senior Tolans come out of the house and escalated the danger to all.

    As Sergeant Cotton arrived in a second patrol car, Bobby Tolan and his wife, Marion, came out of the house in their pajamas.
    SOP -- the primary LEO on the scene have the initial detainees under control; back-up (Cotton) detains & isolates those interfering in a police investigation.

    As he tried to move Marian Tolan, she bristled and said, “Get your hands off of me.”

    Tolan said Cotton pushed his mother in to the garage door and he rose to protest.
    Cotton said Tolan began to rise while digging in his waistband.
    As Robbie Tolan tried to rise to defend his mother, Sergeant Cotton fired at least three times, hitting him once in the chest, Mr. Berg [a Tolan family lawyer] said.

    [emphasis and annotation added]
    BTW -- I am not addressing what may well be profiling in the department, in any way.

    That may or may not be proven in other ongoing litigation.

    However, I've been following this case for a year, because of what appears to me to be scapegoating a single officer who made a honest mistake and the tendency of the press to down play the degree to which the actions of the elder Tolans were a primary cause of their son being shot.
    Last edited by DaveH; May 12th, 2010 at 04:31 PM. Reason: added the BTW
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    Quote Originally Posted by ErnieNWillis View Post
    Why do you assume Sgt Cotton is a racists because he's white and Toland is black? If Toland and his family would have complied and let the officers do their job he would have atleast not been shot. The story around here is Tolands mother came out of the house raising all kinds of and interfering with the investigation. When the officers tried to get her out of the way Toland became belligerent.
    I agree and if you look closely at his wife, she is Hispanic so there goes the racist card.

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    horrible situation for everyone

    of course all the critics raise the racism flag and not look at the issues of the case without looking at color of skin

    officers thought they had a stolen vehicle, yes the tag was run incorrectly, but at the time the officers were acting on the initial call that the vehicle was stolen (state jail felony here in Texas) and the whole thing would have been resolved if everyone from the house would have stayed back, let the officers detain the people in the car and verify everything....but they couldn't....they had to jump up and make things worse

    I feel sorry for everyone involved...everyone, its horrible but for the critics to say things such as "The police had no reason to run the license plate in the first place absent a traffic infraction or some suspicous reason, other than the color of the occupant’s skin, that drew the officer’s attention. Furthermore, when the owner of the residence tells you its his son and the family’s car, the guns should go back into the holsters. That would have been a good time to apologize to the Tolan family, not shoot their son."
    is absurd....cops run plates all the time, we are not required to have reasonable suspicion or anything else, it wasn't skin tone that attracted attention it was the behavior of the vehicle, time of night, and the tag return. As for the bolded portion above....WRONG....if I believed family members every time I was investigating or taking someone into custody I'd never make an arrest

    should the tag have been verified stolen....yes, absolutely

    BUT.....

    should the officers have got them out at gunpoint based on the return they had at the time....yes
    should the officers have attempted to keep the other people away from the officers performing their duty...yes
    should the driver disobey commands and get up telling officers to take their hands off his momma...NO
    should the driver have reached into his waistband approaching an officer...NO

    the Sgt made a split second decision in the situation he was in...it can be argued good or bad, right or wrong for decades

    we almost shot 3 people at their own house this past weekend.....for not complying with our commands and reaching inside their jackets after being told not to....I guess we would have been called racists too....oh, wait....the suspects were white as well as all the officers on scene....would this have affected our decision to shoot....absolutely not, these idiots were a split second from being ventilated for not complying and making us think they were about to bring a weapon into play
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    Quote Originally Posted by 64zebra View Post
    horrible situation for everyone
    Absolutely, and made worst by the press and those who have never been required to make split second life-and-death decisions.

    My hats off the the jury, who in the safety of a well lit courtroom, with unlimited time to review all the facts came to the right decision.
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    Generally, if you don't fight/argue with the cops they don't shoot you. I am not a fan of police use of force, but seriously...you're going to "defend" your mother against the cops?? They don't know you, your mother or your father. Sit down, shut up and let cool heads prevail.
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    Some good advice from a well-known trainer: "the only time you put your hands on a cop is to give him first aid."
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveH View Post
    ...those who have never been required to make split second life-and-death decisions.
    If making those decisions is your job, you better get them right. If there was no weapon, why would someone be "digging in their waistband?" I've got a feeling that anytime there's a shooting, the LEO automatically says something like that. By pushing a middle aged mom into the garage door, the LEO escalated the situation - bad idea. Was there really a reason to do that? I don't know...but I do know that when a cop shoots someone that shouldn't have been shot, they should pay for that mistake with their job. Had you done something like that, you'd be in jail.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Deuce130 View Post
    If there was no weapon, why would someone be "digging in their waistband?"
    the irony in the spirit of your post and the above statement is thick,
    the officers didn't know there wasn't a weapon until afterward

    Quote Originally Posted by Deuce130 View Post
    I've got a feeling that anytime there's a shooting, the LEO automatically says something like that. By pushing a middle aged mom into the garage door, the LEO escalated the situation - bad idea. Was there really a reason to do that? I don't know...but I do know that when a cop shoots someone that shouldn't have been shot, they should pay for that mistake with their job. Had you done something like that, you'd be in jail.
    I can't help but disagree
    if a cop is acting on the situation and he feels his life is being threatened then he should take action
    if you had done something like that, in that situation where you could testify under the circumstances you reasonably believed your life was in danger, you shouldn't go to jail either
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