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Holtsville man acquitted of top counts in cop-dragging case

Michael Shear at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead

Michael Shear at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Sept. 24. Credit: James Carbone

A Holtsville steamfitter accused of dragging a Suffolk police officer after a traffic stop was acquitted Friday of assault and aggravated driving while intoxicated charges.

The jury, however, found Michael Shear, 35, guilty of a lesser DWI charge and second-degree reckless endangerment. Shear wept quietly in a Riverhead courtroom as he heard he was not guilty of assaulting Officer Gregory Sandbichler during the Jan. 15, 2017, traffic stop in Patchogue.

“I just want to thank the jury for all the time they spent on this,” Shear said afterward. He also thanked Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen Braslow for letting him remain free with no bail, despite the convictions on lesser charges. Braslow said he had no doubt that Shear would return for sentencing on Dec. 14.

Shear had faced a maximum of 5 5/6 to 12 years if convicted of all charges, but now faces 2 1/3 to 5 years.

“I think that the verdict was the product of careful deliberations by an intelligent jury,” said defense attorney Steven Politi of Central Islip, who tried the case with co-counsel Caroline Mayrhofer of Hauppauge. “I think that Michael did what he needed to do to get away from an officer that was trying to hurt him.”

Politi had argued that Sandbichler was a “lunatic” who made Shear fear for his life after pulling him over. He said his client left the scene and that Sandbichler tried shocking him with a Taser while the car was moving. After a brief chase, Sandbichler shot Shear in the shoulder.

District Attorney Timothy Sini declined to comment on the verdict specifically, but praised Assistant District Attorneys Carl Borelli and Maggie Bopp. “This was ably tried by two of the finest prosecutors in the office,” Sini said.

Prosecutors said Sandbichler initially pulled Shear over because he was speeding on Waverly Avenue. The officer said he smelled alcohol and Shear slurred his words, so he asked Shear to step out of his Ford Expedition, but Shear refused, Borelli said in his opening statement.

Jurors, who deliberated for about 10 hours over three days, told lawyers afterward there wasn’t enough proof that Shear was trying to harm Sandbichler.

Although a surveillance video shows Sandbichler getting dragged by Shear’s sport utility vehicle, there were 47 seconds before that in which the video didn’t record. One juror said that they had no way to know what happened between the two men before that and that Shear’s vehicle was moving before Sandbichler reached in to shock him.

Jurors said they disregarded testimony about Shear’s blood-alcohol level being 0.22 percent because of concern about how the blood test was handled. During cross-examination by Politi, one nurse testified that after getting shot, a person’s bloodstream is flooded with lactic acid, and that can give a falsely high blood-alcohol level reading.

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