By Rosemary K. Otzman
David Ryan Brooks, 25, of Van Buren Township was bound over to Wayne County Circuit Court for trial following a preliminary exam in district court over a May 29 road-rage incident.
Brooks was an off-duty Romulus police officer at the time of the incident, but was terminated by his department once the warrants were filed. He also had served as a police officer for the City of Belleville.
He is charged with felonious assault and a weapons violation and is scheduled to appear for an arraignment on the information at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice at 9 a.m. on Aug. 27.
Chief 34th District Court Judge Tina Brooks Green presided over the almost two-hour exam on Aug. 13, which called three witnesses to testify: the victim Gary Pratt of Romulus and VBT Police Officer Michael Long for the prosecution and the defendant’s cousin Dustin Brooks for the defense. Dustin Brooks was a passenger in David Brook’s vehicle.
VBT Lt. Ken Floro sat next to the prosecutor in the courtroom.
Before the exam began, defense attorney Michael Vincent asked for a brief meeting with Judge Green and he and Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Patrick Joseph Coletta went into Green’s office.
When they came out it was announced that a consultant on police tactics hired by Vincent would be allowed to stay in the courtroom to hear the testimony and would not ever be a witness.
The alleged victim Pratt, age 62, testified that on May 29 at about 3:15-3:20 p.m. he was traveling north on Belleville Road toward I-94 in the area of Venetian Street, coming from a job at the cemetery in Belleville. He was driving his 450 Ford bucket truck.
“I could see traffic backing up in the construction zone. I was in the right lane and I had to merge. I tried to merge. I saw a black Dodge Ram 4×4 and I thought he was letting me in. I waved as I started to merge. He jarred it forward,” Pratt said.
Vincent protested the “jarred” wording.
Pratt said the Ram went from a dead stop, “he jolted forward” and traffic was at a snail’s pace.
Vincent object, saying that Coletta was leading the witness. The judge let Coletta continue.
“Our fenders were almost touching and our mirrors were touching,” Pratt testified, saying the Ram was an elevated 4×4 and he was in a 450 bucket truck.
“I had to fold his mirror back to back up,” Pratt testified. “His passenger mirror was touching my driver’s side mirror. He got so close to me.” He said he put his truck in reverse.
He said the Ram had its window half down. He said all the windows on the truck were blacked out with the exception of the windshield and he couldn’t see in. Prosecutor Coletta showed a picture of a truck and Pratt identified it as the Ram.
He said there was a window on the passenger side and he could see there was a passenger that looked ball-headed. He could see the passenger from the nose up and could see the driver.
When asked if he recognized the driver in the courtroom, Pratt testified that he saw his picture on the internet last week and pointed out Brooks in the courtroom.
Pratt said both people in the truck had sunglasses on and, “I probably would not have recognized him without the internet. I probably could pass him on the street and not recognize him.”
Vincent objected to the identification.
Judge Green said for the purpose of this exam she would allow it.
“He ID’d the gentleman he saw on the internet,” Vincent protested.
Judge Green agreed that without the internet he couldn’t recognize him.
Pratt continued testifying, saying that after he folded his mirror in, the driver pulled his handgun, holding his arm out.
“He pointed it right at my face and said, ‘You touch my truck again and I’ll blow your head off,’” Pratt testified.
Pratt said he wears hearing aids, which he usually takes off for phone calls and he can’t remember if he had his hearing aids on, but the driver shouted at him and he didn’t need his hearing aids to hear him.
He said the gun was a dark, semi-automatic handgun.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Pratt testified. “I didn’t know who he was. I thought it was a little ridiculous, being in a traffic jam backed up.” Pratt said he felt scared.
Prosecutor Coletta asked if he was scared he might get shot and Pratt said yes, he was scared. “I was possibly visibly shaken. I go hunting,” he said, but he’s never had a gun pointed at him.
Pratt testified he did not have a gun and his windows were not tinted.
He described how he reached out to fold back the mirrors. He said he isn’t very tall, only 5’7”, so he had to reach out to turn the mirrors. He said he folded the mirrors with his left hand and used his right hand for leverage on the steering wheel to raise up to reach out.
“First, I looked at him in disbelief and then I put it in reverse and the driver behind me let me in and that’s when I called 911,” Pratt said.
Defense attorney Vincent then cross-examined Pratt, who testified that he was looking for an opening and Brooks’ truck had an opening of 8-10 feet in front of him and, “I thought he was letting me merge … when he didn’t let me merge.”
Pratt said because the Ram driver was watching the fenders, he thinks he didn’t realize the mirrors were touching.
“His mirror was overlapping my mirror,” he said.
He told Vincent that he was not cursing and he was not upset. He said he had not been drinking and he doesn’t drink.
“Nobody was going no place. We were stuck in traffic… After he pulled the gun, I was upset … I was not in a hurry to get home. I get home when I get home…”
He said he did not ask Brooks for permission to fold his mirror, but just reached out and folded Brooks’ mirror and then his own.
“Did you punch his mirror?” Vincent asked and Pratt said no.
“You were not angry?” Vincent asked and Pratt said he wasn’t until Brooks pulled his gun.
He said the window tapers, with the front side of the window different from the back side. The whole front part was down, he said.
Vincent then asked about how the gun was held and then argued with him later about how a trained police officer wouldn’t hold the gun in gangster style as he described.
Pratt told Vincent he was not spinning his tires or touching the left front fender and did not hear Brooks identify himself as a police officer.
Pratt said Brooks opened his door and dared him to get out of his vehicle. He said Brooks was shouting. That part of the story wasn’t in Pratt’s written report of the incident.
“Everything after pulling the gun, he was screaming. He was yelling very loud,” Pratt recalled.
As far as the picture of Brooks on the internet, Pratt said his wife brought it to his attention, otherwise he probably would not have identified Brooks in the courtroom.
The second witness was VBT Officer Mike Long who stopped a black Dodge Ram in the old Farmer Jack parking lot at about 3:30 p.m. after being dispatched over a reckless driver with a weapon.
Officer Long identified David Brooks as the driver. He asked the driver and passenger to put their hands out the window and Brooks gave his police ID out the window. When the sergeant arrived, he said it was David Brooks.
Officer Long testified that Brooks said the driver of the white F-450 punched his mirror and nearly struck the passenger in his vehicle. Brooks told him he indicated he was a police officer several times and the driver told him to “Back the f— off.”
Long said Brooks was “pretty pissed the driver touched his new truck and at one point he pulled a weapon.”
Prosecutor Coletta asked if Brooks said he feared for his life or the life of his passenger and Long said “not initially.”
“Brooks was a little upset, angry that he touched his vehicle,” Long said.
Coletta asked if Brooks acted scared and Long said he didn’t.
Vincent cross-examined Long and Long testified that he has known Brooks for many years and has been friendly with him. Long said Brooks said he identified himself as a police officer three times and the other driver punched his mirror and was yelling and cursing and revving his engine basically indicating he would get in, no matter what.
Long said eventually Brooks said he was in fear for his life because he couldn’t see the driver’s right hand.
As a trained police officer, Brooks was holding his gun sideways, gangster-style? Vincent asked.
“It’s an issue of fact for a jury to decide? Nothing like Denzel Washington in that movie. He was afraid because he couldn’t see his right hand?” Vincent asked.
“That’s what he stated,” Long said, noting he did a quick evaluation of the truck and the mirror was not folded, as he recalled. Brooks didn’t appear to be scared, Long said.
“Cops try to control their fear,” Vincent said and Long agreed. Judge Green added, “At least attempt it.”
Prosecutor Coletta pointed out that Brooks said nothing about being in fear for his life until his written report which was at 4:45 p.m.
Vincent called witness Dustin Brooks to the stand as a defense witness. Dustin said he has been a Texas State Trooper for five years and David is his cousin.
Dustin said he was a front-seat passenger in David’s truck when the incident occurred. He said the other truck tried to squeeze in behind them and then tried to cut in front of them. Traffic was at a dead stop and the other truck was a big truck, 8,000 pounds.
“He punched our mirror and used vulgar language and was going beserk,” Dustin said.
“He was coming out of the window and we couldn’t see his right hand,” Dustin said, adding David drew his gun at “low ready” so if something is going to happen, you’re ready.
When asked how David held the gun, Dustin demonstrated a two-hand hold and then said he meant a one-hand hold below the base of the window. He said he didn’t remember if the car window was up and then he glanced down and the prosecutor asked if he was reading something.
Dustin said he was referring to his statement, which is not allowed in testimony, and Judge Green ordered him to flip it over.
When testimony was about how David held his gun low, Judge Green asked how did you suppose the victim saw the gun? Dustin said the other truck sat higher and his vehicle was bigger.
In cross-examination, Prosecutor Coletta asked Dustin if the truck tried to get over in front of them and the defendant wasn’t letting him in and Dustin said that was true.
“We all know you’re either going to let the person in or you’re not,” said Judge Green. She determined the mirrors were designed to fold in. She asked if the driver threatened them and he said he didn’t know.
“No verbal threats?” Judge Green asked and Dustin said based on the vulgar language it could be a threat.
“Perceived as a threat, valid or not,” Judge Green said.
Dustin said David didn’t pull out his badge and Dustin’s gun was in his luggage. Dustin said he didn’t say anything to the driver because David was talking and he let that person be in control.
Prosecutor Coletta then made a motion to bind Brooks over for trial.
Vincent said the testimony shows disparity. He said Pratt has hearing problems and Brooks is a trained police officer. A Texas state trooper said the man was out of control and punching mirrors.
“He comes up with a story that he folded the mirror,” Vincent said. “He never pointed the gun at him. A far cry from felonious assault. He thinks he sees a gun pointed at him.
“He gets in right behind him in traffic? The supposed version doesn’t add up. Didn’t hear him ID as a police officer. His story’s not credible. It should be a charge of reckless use of a firearm, not felonious assault. His identification was a newspaper article?” Vincent asked.
Prosecutor Coletta said the officer identified him as the driver. He said there is probable cause to bind him over. The conflicting evidence is for a jury to decide.
“I understand the issues with the witness,” said Judge Green. “This is a probable-cause hearing and the relative of the defendant potentially could have a bias. There’s a credibility issue between two individuals. It’s up for a jury to decide. Conflicting evidence for a jury to decide,” she said and then bound Brooks over to circuit court.
The prosecutor asked for the judge to make Brooks turn in his weapon as a part of his bond, but Judge Green did not make that a condition of his bond.
She did remind Brooks that he was to have no contact with the victim.
Vincent said Brooks was terminated from his police officer’s position before this hearing and it was in litigation.
By Rosemary K. Otzman