The prosecutor in Officer Efrem Hamilton’s assault trial is being hampered by what they are referring to as the “blue wall of silence”, the unspoken code that many officers deny exist. Assistant Hennepin County attorney Tara Ferguson Lopez may have something different to say after three of Hamilton’s colleagues changed or “clarified” their testimony while on the witness stand.
Lopez appealed to presiding district judge Fred Karasov after the testimony of Hamilton’s fellow officers. According to Lopez the officers’ testimony differed from statements they submitted to her office and documented in their police report.
Officer Hamilton is facing second-degree assault charges and two counts of intentional discharge of a firearm, all of which are felonies.
“The officers that previously testified – there were some very obvious and notable changes in what they indicated in their reports and in prior discussions, and what they testified about today,” Lopez told the judge. The prosecutor even pointed out that the officers are inclined to feel indebted to Hamilton’s attorney, Fred Bruno, who frequently represents officers in court. “So I do think it’s an issue in this case.”
Lopez pointed out the testimony of three officers: homicide detective Sgt. James Jensen and patrolmen Craig Williams and Chad Martin. The prosecutor stopped just short of accusing the officers of tailoring their testimony for the defense saying, “aside from being very hesitant and tentative witnesses, changed their testimony and how they provided that information.”
What stuck out in particular to Lopez were the discrepancies in the statements of the night of the shooting.
“Would it help to refresh your recollection of whether you smelled anything by taking a look at your report, officer,” Lopez asked Williams after his response about whether he smelled gunpowder as he approached Hamilton’s SUV.
Williams testified he and Martin happened to be in the area at the time of the shooting. There was an immediate calm after the shooting followed by what was described as the sound of a tire popping.
Unsatisfied with Williams’ response, Lopez approached the stand and stuck a copy of his report in front of him flatly asking, “Does that report refresh your recollection?”
On the night in question, Hamilton was reportedly working an off-duty gig when he responded to a call about a large brawl-turned-shooting near Target Field on Nov. 20, 2016. Dispatchers radioed all units to be on the look out for a “gray sedan”.
A gray BMW slammed into Hamilton’s SUV while trying to flee the shooting driving backward in the wrong direction. Hamilton fired a single shot in the vehicle. No one was injured in the shooting but prosecutors decided to go ahead and charge the officer claiming that he acted recklessly.
Hamilton’s defense team argued that the shooting was justified. Dispatchers warned of a gray sedan and while responding to the call Hamilton was struck by a gray vehicle driving backwards and in the wrong direction. The pieces of the puzzle fit.
Lopez also argued that Jensen was not consistent with details on whether he heard the BMW’s engine rev after it slammed into Hamilton’s SUV.
“Before today, you never indicated that the revving was coming from the BMW,” said Lopez.
“I haven’t changed it – I reviewed it,” Jensen replied.
During a jury recess, Judge Karasov agreed with the prosecutor’s concerns about the witness bias affirming her concerns were appropriate.
“Jensen would have a reason arguably to help Mr Hamilton,” Karasov said. “I allowed you to explore that bias, and I think you did establish that bias.”
A witness for the state also spoke to existence of the blue wall of silence. Former officer, Mike Quinn, testified that most officers adhere to the unwritten blue code. Officers are ostracized in most cases for breaking that rule said Quinn.
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