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Former Watertown man cleared of trying to injure police officer

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Jefferson County Judge Kim H. Martusewicz ruled Friday that a former Watertown man was not guilty of trying to injure a city police officer by shoving him into oncoming Public Square traffic in 2009.

Following a non-jury trial, Judge Martusewicz acquitted Devonte D. Whiting, 27, of the felony count of second-degree attempted assault, as well as misdemeanor counts of second-degree obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest. The judge did, however, find Mr. Whiting guilty of two misdemeanor counts of second-degree harassment and the traffic violation of passing a red light.

Police alleged that after Mr. Whiting’s vehicle was halted for a traffic light violation Sept. 20, 2009, at Franklin Street and Public Square, he ignored Officer Charles L. Bickel III’s orders to get back into the vehicle. He then was alleged to have shoved Officer Bickel against a vehicle and then tried to injure the officer by pushing him into the street in front of oncoming traffic.

The question of whether Mr. Whiting shoved the officer twice was never really in dispute. A young woman taking pictures on Public Square for her boyfriend’s senior portrait saw the altercation occurring and turned her camera on the two men, providing the court with at least six photos of the incident, including one that showed Mr. Whiting shoving Officer Bickel into the road.

At issue was whether Mr. Whiting had purposely pushed the officer with the intent that he be injured by oncoming traffic, as well as whether there actually was an approaching vehicle that could have injured the officer. While Officer Bickel and a second responding officer, Wayne W. McConnell, each testified that there was a good deal of traffic passing through Public Square at the time of the incident, neither could say definitively that Officer Bickel fell in front of a moving vehicle.

A motorist passing by at the time of the incident, Loren Michelle Kennedy, Watertown, testified that she “slammed on her brakes” upon witnessing the altercation, but did so because she was startled by the sight of a police officer struggling with a suspect, not because the officer fell into her lane of travel. Another passing motorist, Jason W. Roach, Rodman, also saw the officer shoved down, got out of his vehicle and “kind of tackled” Mr. Whiting, assisting officers in restraining him.

Mr. Roach, who later was recognized by the City Council and former Police Chief Joseph J. Goss for his efforts, testified Friday that with all of the commotion swirling around him, he could say that he saw the officer knocked down in the road, but could not say with certainty whether he observed traffic coming toward the officer.

After delivering his verdict, Judge Martusewicz sentenced Mr. Whiting to time served at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building, which amounted to 137 days. The delay of more than three years in bringing Mr. Whiting to trial was brought upon by his already being imprisoned in Jackson, Mich. He is serving up to 15 years in prison for conviction of an assault that occurred during a July 2011 armed robbery, according the Michigan Department of Corrections website.

Mr. Whiting told Judge Martusewicz that the incident involved a dispute with a store clerk who had refused to sell him cigarillos because his identification showing his age had expired.

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