In emotional testimony recounting the fatal shooting of a young man at a birthday party, a Westminster policeman told the jury that an angry crowd kicked and beat a fellow officer, then violently turned on him, forcing him to shoot Frank Martinez in self-defense.
Officer Steven Phillips, accused in a civil suit of negligence and civil rights violations, said he recalled about 10 people surrounding Officer Richard Mize on the night of July 15, 1988, when both officers chased a man into the back yard of the Martinez family's home.
Phillips said Mize had been pummeled to the ground and his attackers were "taking their turns kicking and punching him in the face."
"They wouldn't leave him alone. His glasses flew off. . . . They just kept hitting him," Phillips testified in U.S. District Court.
Phillips said he began hitting people with his police baton in while trying to protect Mize, but then the crowd turned on him.
"I had to forget about Officer Mize and try to protect myself. I was hitting people with my baton but they didn't stop. They just kept coming at me."
Phillips said he lost his baton in the scuffle. Then someone kicked him and spun him onto his back while his attackers continued to kick and punch him.
Asked how he felt at this point, the officer replied, "petrified."
Phillips said he was on his back when he first saw Martinez with a beer bottle in his hand. Martinez ran toward him, Phillips said, and raised the bottle as if to hit him. Phillips said he drew his gun and fired once at Martinez with his .357 magnum revolver. The hollow-tipped bullet pierced Martinez's heart and he died a short time later.
"I was scared," said Phillips, a four-year police veteran who sobbed repeatedly while giving his account Wednesday. "I figured he was trying to kill me."
The Martinez family has sued Phillips, alleging that he used excessive force, was negligent and violated Martinez's civil rights. Investigations by the district attorney's office and grand jury cleared Phillips of any wrongdoing.
The Martinez family has maintained that Frank Martinez did not have a bottle in his hand at the time he was shot.
Martinez's parents, Joel and Amanda Martinez, have testified that they believe the incident was precipitated by police who overreacted to the situation.