Schenectady police officer Mark Weekes thought fast. He had to.
A man he’d tried to detain on State Street downtown resisted his efforts, Weekes testified Thursday at the trial of his accused attacker. That resistance soon led to an attack that left the officer briefly unconscious on the cement.
“I put my hand on his right shoulder and that is the last memory I have before picking my head off the sidewalk,” Weekes told a Schenectady County Court jury.
But the attack wasn’t over. Weekes quickly realized his position: Face down on the sidewalk, with the man he’d just tried to detain straddling his back.
“I didn’t see him,” the officer said of the man on trial, James Hilton. “I just saw a punch coming to my left temple and cheek area.”
In all, prosecutors contend, Hilton, an amateur mixed martial arts fighter, got off between 26 and 28 blows in quick succession, knocking Weekes unconscious for a second time.
Finally, his attacker fled; Weekes came to and stumbled his way back to his patrol car with a fractured skull, broken finger and swelling face, to summon help.
Weekes testified Thursday in Schenectady County Court on the first day of Hilton’s assault and strangulation trial, giving his first public account of the attack that put him out of work for more than two months and briefly put him in Ellis Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.
Hilton, 33, of Glens Falls, is standing trial on one count each of assault on a police officer, second-degree assault and second-degree strangulation, all felonies.
Attorneys in the fast-moving trial offered their opening statements Thursday morning before Judge Frank P. Milano.
Prosecutor Christina Tremante-Pelham argued Hilton turned a routine police questioning over a traffic cone into a vicious attack on an officer by a trained fighter.
The prosecutor also told the jury they will then will hear words Hilton said to detectives shortly after his arrest: “Nobody lays his hands on me,” she quoted Hilton as saying, “not even an officer of the police.”
Hilton is being defended by attorney Lincy Jacob, who laid the groundwork for a defense seeking a verdict of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect — essentially that Hilton’s mental health issues should allow the judge to determine Hilton’s current state and whether he should be committed to an institution for treatment.
Hilton, Jacob told the jury, is a veteran and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. His attorneys have previously identified his service as four years in the Marines, including 10 months in Iraq.
Jacob told the jury she expects a Veterans Administration psychologist who has evaluated Hilton to testify that he believes Hilton was in a “dissociative state” at the time.
Hilton, Jacob told the jury, will testify and tell them that “aggressive questioning” from the officer, coupled with the officer grabbing his arm, sent him into an alternate state.
Hilton remains free on $100,000 bail.
Weekes, who joined the force in 2008 and is himself a veteran of the Air Force, testified Thursday afternoon. Other members of the department attended for much of his testimony, including Police Chief Eric Clifford and Assistant Chief Jack Falvo.
During Weekes’ testimony, prosecutors presented photos of him in the wake of the attack and the audio recording of the attack. Street cameras recorded some of the lead-up to the attack, including Weekes’ initial interaction with Hilton.
The photos show Weekes with the left side of his face swollen, including a bulge at his temple where his skull fractured. He also suffered a broken right ring finger, a scrape to his right forehead and a deep bruise to his neck from a kind of circulation-stopping chokehold. He still suffers from periodic migraines and other effects of the attack, but he has since returned to patrol, three-and-a-half months later.
The audio captured the quickness of the final interaction and attack. From Weekes getting out of his patrol car to the sound of the first punches landing on him is about 60 seconds. The attack itself — including both times he lost consciousness — and then his stumbling return to his patrol car also lasts about 60 seconds.
The attack itself was not captured on video. Weekes’ in-car camera, which captured the audio, faces forward down the street and no street cameras caught it, though cameras did capture portions of the lead-up to the attack.
Weekes’ initial interaction with Hilton came when he saw the man dancing in the street at State Street and Broadway with a traffic cone. After obtaining a promise from Hilton and Hilton’s friends to return the cone to its original location, and deeming the events not serious enough to require further intervention, Weekes went on his way, he testified.
After heading east on State, then coming back intending to fuel for his patrol car, he spotted Hilton again, still with the cone. Hilton seemed to spot the officer, too, dropping the cone and walking away.
At that point, Weekes decided he needed to investigate further. He told Hilton to stop, then got out of his patrol car just west of the railroad bridge to question him.
Weekes, also trying to determine if Hilton was intoxicated, asked Hilton’s name, and soon got his first and last name. Weekes then asked for Hilton’s identification to confirm his name. Hilton pulled out his wallet, but ultimately refused to provide his ID, Weekes testified.
Weekes ultimately determined he needed to detain Hilton to confirm his identity and run his name for possible warrants. To detain him, Weekes moved to put Hilton in handcuffs. Hilton resisted, holding his arms folded. Weekes moved to the rear of the larger man to try again.
The next thing Weekes remembered, he was on the cement sidewalk with Hilton straddling him.
As the blows started, Weekes recalled quickly checking down the possibilities. Could he go for his gun? Could he even shoot safely over his shoulder? What happened if his attacker took the gun?
Weekes, in his quick conclusion, determined his only choice to be to protect his gun at all costs, keeping it holstered and blocked by his body and an adjacent wall.
After fleeing the scene, police soon located Hilton with the help of a citizen’s tip of a fleeing man jumping a fence; a police dog found him hiding in a dumpster off Erie Boulevard.
The attack over, Weekes made his way back to his patrol car, falling at first. Dazed and unable to correct what he was doing wrong with his radio, he finally got a message through over feedback. Asked by the dispatcher if all was OK, Weekes raised his voice to get his answer through:
The trial is expected to continue Friday.
Reach Gazette reporter Steven Cook at 395-3122, [email protected] or @ByStevenCook on Twitter.