Lawmen like guilty verdict in officer’s dragging

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 29, 2008

COURTLAND—Law enforcement officers applauded a judge’s guilty verdict Wednesday in the case of a Franklin police officer who was dragged alongside the vehicle of a drug suspect attempting to escape arrest.

&uot;It’s good to see that the court backs our officers,&uot; Franklin Police Lt. Timothy Whitt said in an interview outside of the courtroom where Armondo Thomas Hicks had been found guilty of three felony charges stemming from the December 2006 incident.

The verdict, Whitt said, &uot;leaves a positive impact on my guys, who take a risk anytime they try to apprehend a suspect. &uot;It’s a dangerous job.&uot;

Southampton County Circuit Court Judge Westbrook J. Parker found Hicks, 31, guilty of attempted malicious injury of a police officer, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of cocaine.

The two-day trial featured testimony by a string of inmates from the Western Tidewater Regional Jail and other correctional facilities. The inmates had been called by both the prosecution and the defense to testify about whether Hicks had bragged in jail about the incident.

In the end, however, Parker appeared to give little weight to what had been said by the men and women in yellow and orange jumpsuits.

&uot;What happened here is very, very simple,&uot; he said in court. &uot;Mr. Hicks was about to roll a blunt, and the officer caught him. Mr. Hicks would not be in so much trouble if he’d done what the officer said right up front.&uot;

Hicks and his wife had been sitting in a rented Dodge Neon outside of the Deli Express in Franklin when Officer C.A. Fellers Jr. approached the car and shone a flashlight inside, the officer testified on Tuesday. When he saw what Hicks was doing, he opened the car door and tried to extricate the man from the driver’s seat.

Hicks then put the car into gear and sped away. Fellers’ arm was caught in the seat belt, and he was dragged across the street and into a curb before being knocked loose. As he was being dragged, the officer pleaded with Hicks to stop the car.

&uot;It’s clear he acted intentionally,&uot; the judge said while delivering his verdict on Wednesday.

Defense attorney Robert Hagans of Norfolk said in his closing arguments on Wednesday that Fellers had been a &uot;zealous officer&uot; who had used &uot;poor judgment&uot; when he decided to open the car door without knocking on the window first.

&uot;The officer was fully or partially responsible for his own predicament,&uot; Hagans said, claiming that his client had been startled, didn’t know it was a police officer opening the door and fled the scene out of fear.

&uot;His sole objective was to try to get away,&uot; he told the judge.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke took exception to the claim.

&uot;Officer Fellers did not cause his assault,&uot; he said. &uot;All (Hicks) really wants to do is to blame the police officer.&uot;

Cooke said Hicks’ assertions that he did not know it was a police officer opening the door and that he was afraid he was about to be robbed were &uot;not credible,&uot; considering he ran from a different officer when his car was stopped minutes later several blocks away from the scene of the dragging.

&uot;Instead of reporting a potential crime against himself, he ran,&uot; Cooke said.

Following the trial, Whitt said that dragging incidents are not uncommon amongst police officers.

As an example, he pointed to an incident in Chesapeake earlier this month in which one of that city’s lawmen allegedly was dragged 200 feet by a man who had been pulled over on a reckless driving charge, then drove away with the officer hanging on through the window.

&uot;I can’t say (Fellers) was wrong at all,&uot; Whitt said. &uot;He saw the suspect getting ready to flee the scene&uot; and attempted to grab him.

Following the Dec. 23, 2006, incident, Fellers was flown by helicopter to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, where he was treated and released for scrapes and bruises. He said in court on Tuesday that he still has a tender scar on his calf from &uot;road rash&uot; and that he has frequent pain in his hip where it struck the curb.