In the early hours of Jan. 15, 2017, one of two people acted irrationally — either a Holtsville steamfitter accused of driving drunk or the Suffolk Park police officer who pulled him over, shocked him with a Taser while his car was moving and later shot him, attorneys argued Friday in opening statements at the man's trial in Riverhead.
For prosecutors, the irrational man was the defendant, Michael Shear, 35, who is on trial before Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen Braslow on charges of second-degree assault, agrravated driving while intoxicated and other offenses for dragging Officer Gregory Sandbichler after getting pulled over in Patchogue. He faces eight years in prison if convicted.
"He put an officer's life in danger and injured him in the line of duty," Assistant District Attorney Carl Borelli said of Shear.
But Shear's attorney, Steven Politi of Central Islip, said his client tried to drive away from the traffic stop because the officer jumped into Shear's window and he feared for his life.
"That's because Officer Sandbichler is nuts," Politi told jurors. "This park police officer is a lunatic. I feel bad for the officers who have to work with him. He is a crazy man. They have to work with a lunatic."
According to Borelli, Sandbichler saw Shear speeding on Waverly Avenue and pulled him over in a shopping center parking lot. The officer smelled alcohol and Shear slurred his words, so he asked Shear to step out of his Ford Expedition — but Shear refused, Borelli said.
"I'm sorry, officer, but I can't do that," Shear said, according to Borelli. "This is going to be really bad."
Shear started the engine and began to drive off, so Sandbichler took out his Taser and leaned into the moving car to shock Shear, Borelli said. But Shear kept going, dragging Sandbichler with him until the officer tumbled free.
Police chased Shear almost to Sunrise Highway before stopping him, Borelli said. There, Sandbichler saw Shear point an object at him so he shot Shear, Borelli said.
The object likely was the Taser. Blood drawn later at Stony Brook University Hospital showed that Shear had an alcohol level of 0.22 percent, almost triple the legal level of 0.08 percent, Borelli said.
Politi said nothing Sandbichler did was appropriate, starting with shocking someone in a moving vehicle, continuing with the chase even after a police supervisor called it off and ending with shooting his client for no reason.
He accused police and prosecutors of constructing a web of lies to protect officers at all costs.
"I'm trying to give you the truth," Politi said. "They don't want it to come out."