Bellaire City officials expressed regret Monday night over a shooting incident that left a 23-year old aspiring baseball player Robbie Tolan with serious injuries and led to Monday’s indictment of veteran Police Sgt. Jeff Cotton by a Harris County grand jury.
Cotton, a 10-year veteran of the Bellaire Police Department, was indicted on a charge of first-degree Aggravated Assault by a Public Servant. The charge is punishable by sentence of up to 99 years to life in prison and a fine of $10,000.
Mayor Cindy Siegel and Councilman Will Hickman also expressed “confidence in the legal system,” at the city council meeting Monday night.
“This has been a really difficult time for everyone,” Siegel said. “I know it has been extremely difficult for the Tolan family, and it’s not going to go away for a while. And it has been extremely difficult time for the city. When all else fails, I have to believe in the legal system.”
“To the citizens of Bellaire, we will get through this. And hopefully, in the end, I believe that justice will be served and we will work through these issues with the Tolans,” Siegel said.
“They continue to be in my thoughts and prayers every day,” Siegel said. “I would just ask all of you that as we move through this, that, these are difficult times for everyone. They are difficult times for a Bellaire family, and difficult times for the city. And we need all the prayers we can get. And, hopefully, we will be better for it.”
Hickman said he almost looked forward to Cotton’s trial.
“”It is not a good day when one of our police officers is indicted. It’s not a good day when one of residents is the victim of assault,” Hickman said. “But the silver lining in all of this is that everything will come out in court. We will hear all the evidence the grand jury heard. It will put an end to all the speculation about what happened.”
City Attorney Allan Petrov formally informed the council of the indictment, stemming from a shooting in the early morning of New Year’s Eve, in the driveway of Tolan’s parents in the 800 block of Woodstock.
The case has generated local and national attention, and charges of racial profiling by Bellaire police. Tolan, who is black, had been a player on the Bellaire High School baseball team and is the son of former Cincinnati Reds player Bobby Tolan.
Tolan is black and Cotton is white.
In a meeting dominated by talk of parking and parks, Siegel acknowledged Bellaire resident Glen Frazier’s comments about the “appearance” of racial profiling in Bellaire. Frazier, a black resident of Bellaire for 18 years, said: “Things can’t just be right; they need to look right.”
Frazier was referring to a report from Alex Del Carmen, an expert in racial profiling hired by the city. In early March Del Carmen told the Bellaire council that statistics about traffics stops and searches cannot provide the answer about whether the Bellaire Police Department engages in racial profiling.
“Please understand that it’s not an indictment of this council to say ‘I’m sorry. Maybe something as simple as that would have defused a lot of this,” Frazier said.
After the meeting, Siegel insisted that she had repeatedly said she was “sorry” about the shooting.
“I have said I am sorry. I have said it publicly. I said it in the HBO interview. I think it is jut a bad situation, an unfortunate situation. I just have to trust that the legal system is there for a purpose. It may not be a perfect system, but it is the best one in the world, and I think we will work through this in a positive way,” Siegel said.
“At this point, it’s out of our hands,” Siegel said.
“We just have to rely on the legal system, and prayer,” Siegel said.
City officials have been reluctant to comment on the investigation of the shooting incident, which was conducted by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. They also cited threats of legal action by Tolan’s attorneys, Geoffrey Berg and George Gibson.
Bellaire City Manager Bernie Satterwhite released a statement Monday afternoon, noting that Cotton was innocent of the charges until proven guilty.
“The City and its officials have been criticized for waiting to speak publicly about this matter until all of the factual information is fully determined and appropriately evaluated but we have always felt that the rational way to address this matter was to await independent, objective, information based upon facts and to refrain from responding to irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric,” Satterwhite said in a prepared statement.
Satterwhite added: “It should go without saying that… Sergeant Cotton is, like any individual, innocent until proven guilty through a trial.”
Cotton will be represented by a personal attorney, and will remain on paid administrative leave until the conclusion of his criminal trial, Satterwhite said.
The shooting occurred after Officer Edwards ran a license plate on Tolan’s vehicle, which indicated it was stolen. Bellaire officials said that the information about the stolen vehicle was later found to be incorrect.
Edwards followed Tolan and his cousin to his parent’s house and summoned Cotton as back-up. The two police officers ordered the young men out of the vehicle and instructed them to get down on the driveway.
Family members came out into the driveway and tried to tell the officers of their mistake. Tolan’s mother was pushed against a wall during an ensuing commotion.
When Tolan tried to protest, Cotton allegedly fired several shots in his direction, Tolan was struck in the right chest. Doctors were unable to remove part of a bullet from his liver.
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