On a cold, March night shortly before midnight in Huntington Station, a Suffolk police officer greeted the man who would shoot and nearly kill him moments later, the officer testified Monday in a courtroom filled with fellow officers.
Officer Mark Collins and his two partners had just pulled over a speeding car on Goeller Avenue, and Collins said he recognized Sheldon Leftenant, 23, of Huntington Station, in the back seat. Collins said he’d known Leftenant for about eight years.
“I said, ‘Sheldon, I haven’t seen you for a while. Where have you been?’” Collins testified during questioning by Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla.
Collins said Leftenant replied, “Officer, I’ve been staying out of trouble, staying in Mastic with family.”
But Leftenant soon became nervous and wouldn’t keep his hands in sight, so Collins said he asked him to get out of the car.
“Once I opened the door, Sheldon took off running like a dart,” Collins said. “His jacket was blowing in the wind as he ran.”
As Collins chased him on that night 10 months ago, he said he pointed his Taser at Leftenant, hoping he would see the red aiming laser.
“I was hoping to gain some compliance out of him,” Collins said.
After Leftenant ran across Jericho Turnpike and up a driveway on Mercer Court, Collins said he ordered him to the ground, but Leftenant began to turn toward him. Collins said he fired his Taser at Leftenant’s back.
“I realized it didn’t work,” Collins said. “He didn’t fall to the ground in a muscular lock-up, like he should have.”
Collins said he grabbed Leftenant’s shoulders, threw him to the ground and punched him three or four times in the face while he demanded that Leftenant show him his hands. He never did see them.
“I saw sparks near my face, and heard four loud pops,” Collins said. “It was like time stood still, and I realized he was shooting. I gave my arm a command to pull my gun out, and my arm wouldn’t move.”
He had been shot twice — once in the neck and once just inside the hip. A trauma surgeon testified the neck shot barely missed Collins’ carotid artery.
Collins testified calmly to a courtroom that included District Attorney Thomas Spota, police commissioner-nominee Timothy Sini and about 80 officers, detectives and prosecutors.
At times during Collins’ testimony, Leftenant shook his head in apparent disagreement. He is charged with attempted aggravated murder of a police officer and faces 40 years to life in prison if convicted.
“I tried to stand up, and my right leg wouldn’t work, either,” Collins continued, so he began to crawl away to try to hide behind some steps. “All I could keep thinking was I was going to get shot in the back of the head.”
When Collins got to the steps, he said he pulled his bulletproof vest to cover his face. That’s when he saw Leftenant get up, open the gate in the fence and run away. K-9 unit officers found him hiding in a shed about an hour later.
Meanwhile, he heard one of his partners, Officer Damian Torres, calling for him. When Torres found him, Collins said he told his partner, “I’ve been shot. Get a helicopter.”
Collins said he told Torres who shot him and that he could find Leftenant’s learner’s permit from the traffic stop in his pocket. Collins put his hand on his neck wound and found it wasn’t frothing or spurting, meaning his airway and arteries weren’t hit.
During cross-examination by defense attorney Ian Fitzgerald, Collins said that until he got shot, he had no indication that Leftenant had committed a crime. He said Leftenant never said a word during the struggle and ran off as soon as he could.
Outside the jury’s presence, Fitzgerald argued to state Supreme Court Justice John Collins, (no relation to the officer), in a motion to dismiss the charges, that his client never stated any intent to kill the officer. But the judge said the multiple shots could be evidence of intent and ruled the jury could decide the case.
Attorneys will give closing arguments Tuesday.