Judge convicts man of assaulting deputy

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2008

COURTLAND—A judge found Freddie Drake guilty Thursday of three felony charges stemming from a November incident in which he traded gunshots with a Southampton County sheriff’s deputy.

Explaining that laws against assaulting police officers do as much to protect the public as they do to protect lawmen, Judge Rodham T. Delk Jr. found the 52-year-old man guilty of two counts of assaulting a law enforcement officer and one count of unlawfully discharging a firearm in an occupied dwelling.

Since reasonable people can expect to be punished under the law for assaulting police officers, Delk said, those officers can respond to situations confident that most people aren’t out to harm them and can therefore be willing to minimize their use of force.

Such an attitude of restraint—along with a missed shot from a service pistol—meant Drake was in court Thursday to defend himself against three felony charges, instead of in a cemetery somewhere, those involved with the case agreed.

&uot;We are lucky, your honor, that Mr. Drake was not shot,&uot; defense attorney Stephen Oser said in his closing arguments prior to the judge’s ruling. &uot;We have a man who was out of his mind … and was intoxicated.&uot;

Indeed, testimony revealed that Drake had consumed nearly all of a fifth of whiskey earlier in the day. Police were originally called to the Monroe Road home where he had been drinking with his &uot;double cousin&uot; and her mother when he had become despondent, put the barrel of a shotgun into his mouth and threatened to kill himself.

Barbara Jo Story Gregson told the judge that while she and Drake were drinking, they had been talking about &uot;how people can do you wrong and how life is tough.&uot;

Soon, she said, he went into the bedroom, got a shotgun, lay down on the bed and put the barrel into his mouth.

Gregson begged him from the bedroom door not to shoot, she said, and her mother ran outside to call police from a mobile phone. Unwilling to watch her mother’s boyfriend kill himself, Gregson moved from the doorway, then heard a shot. When she looked back inside the bedroom, Drake was still lying on the bed, alive, with the gun back in his mouth and fresh holes in the drywall nearby.

Three different times, Drake threatened suicide and shot into walls before Gregson ran from the house and drove away with her mother.

By the time the two returned 10 minutes later, police had arrived on the scene and clashed with Drake in a potentially fatal encounter outside the home.

When he arrived on the scene, Deputy Scott Griffith said Thursday, he heard a gunshot from inside the house and immediately took cover behind his car. Drake emerged from the home &uot;cussing and screaming, yelling at me,&uot; Griffith testified.

&uot;I remember trying to get my whole body behind that small tire,&uot; he said.

During the minute or so that Griffith hid behind his police cruiser, he told the court, Drake kept taunting him, begging the officer to shoot him and kneeling on the ground, scanning the car through his gun sight.

&uot;It appeared to me that he was looking for me,&uot; Griffith said.

Moving from his original position, Griffith jumped from behind the car and fired one round at Drake, who immediately dropped his weapon and fell to the ground.

Griffith saw blood on Drake’s hand and thought he had been shot, but Drake got up and began advancing on the deputy again, this time without a weapon. When Drake refused to stop, Griffith fired his Taser.

Other deputies arrived quickly and handcuffed the man, who remained combative, testimony revealed. As he lay on the ground, hands cuffed behind his back, he lashed out and kicked another deputy, resulting in a second &uot;tasing&uot; and, ultimately a second assault charge.

Deputy Robert Bushing, the officer whom Drake kicked, testified that the second use of the Taser finally calmed the man down. &uot;At that point, he said, ‘Just stop tasing me.’&uot;

&uot;This is an egregious case with a weapon,&uot; Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jack Randall said in his closing argument Thursday. &uot;Obviously Mr. Drake was disturbed.&uot;

Randall also praised Griffith’s quick thinking.

&uot;Deputy Griffith acted reasonably under the circumstances,&uot; he told the judge. &uot;His quick action and conduct with the Taser basically saved Mr. Drake’s life.&uot;

Drake will return to court for sentencing Aug. 7.

The firearms charge could result in a maximum of 10 years in prison. The assault charges each could bring up to five years in prison, with a minimum mandatory sentence of six months in jail.