It didn't take long for things to go wrong at a traffic stop one cold night last year in Patchogue, a Suffolk police officer testified Tuesday in a Riverhead courtroom.
Within minutes, Officer Gregory Sandbichler said the driver refused to get out of his car, restarted and drove away, dragging the officer 40 or 50 feet. Then, after a chase, Sandbichler said the driver pointed an object at him and Sandbichler shot him in the shoulder.
The driver, Michael Shear, 35, of Holtsville, is on trial before Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen Braslow on charges of second-degree assault, aggravated driving while intoxicated and other offenses. He faces 8 years in prison, if convicted.
During questioning by Assistant District Attorney Maggie Bopp, Sandbichler testified that he was on a DWI patrol after 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 15, 2017, when he noticed Shear speeding north on Waverly Avenue. After Shear abruptly turned into a shopping center parking lot just south of Sunrise Highway, Sandbichler said he turned on his flashing lights and Shear stopped, the officer said.
Sandbichler said he noticed a strong odor of alcohol as he approached the driver's window and asked for his license and registration.
"He just stood there with his hands clenched on the steering wheel, staring straight ahead," Sandbichler said. "It was a thousand-yard stare. I don't know what he was looking at."
Sandbichler asked again, and Shear eventually produced an identification card that was not a license.
A few moments later, Shear said, "I'm sorry, officer, I can't do this right now," according to Sandbichler.
"It was a very unusual response," the officer said. "I felt this was not going as it normally would."
As he began to call for backup, he said, Shear started his car. Sandbichler said he took out his Taser, hoping to prevent Shear from driving off and endangering the public. But despite an apparent shout of pain from Shear, he drove off with Sandbichler's arm stuck in the window.
Surveillance video from the shopping center shows the officer getting dragged. Sandbichler said he lost his footing and tried to keep from falling under the wheels. He broke free and fell to the ground, and Shear spun his Ford Expedition 180 degrees in the lot and drove out to the Sunrise Highway service road, heading east.
Sandbichler and several other officers chased Shear to North Ocean Avenue, where he turned north. Eventually, Sandbichler said, Shear stopped and he repeatedly demanded that Shear show his hands.
The officer said Shear fumbled in the center console and came up pointing a gunlike object at him, so Sandbichler said he shot Shear.
"I think after everything that had happened — he'd already tried to kill me once — this was going to be his last stand," Sandbichler said.
Shear, who was shot in the left shoulder, continued to resist arrest after officers pulled him from his car, Sandbichler said.
The officer said he looked in Shear's car and saw a Taser, which is shaped like a pistol, sitting on the driver's seat.
There was drama in the courtroom even before Sandbichler was called to the witness stand. Defense attorney Steven Politi of Central Islip, who called Sandbichler "a lunatic" in his opening statement last week, asked Braslow to forbid Sandbichler from entering the courtroom with his service weapon.
"Oh, come on," said Bopp as Politi spoke.
"I believe he's mentally unstable," Politi continued. "He shot my client."
"You're a psychiatrist now," Braslow said sarcastically, as he denied Politi's request and promised that court officers, who also are armed, would protect Politi and his client. "It's my courtroom, not yours. Maybe you wish it was yours."
"No, I don't," Politi replied. "I don't need the pay cut."
"Well, that's certainly true," Braslow said. "I'm just a public servant. I'm not a big shot."
"I think you are a big shot," Politi said
"Oh, really. I'll have to jot that down. I'll have to tell my wife," the judge said.
Eventually, testimony resumed.