AUBURN — A Lisbon man who rammed two police cruisers and chased a third one with a dump truck wasn't aware of what he was doing because of his war experience and a brain injury, his lawyer said Tuesday.
Bartolo Ford, 49, was shot in the hip by one of the officers who jumped out of his smashed cruiser and fired at Ford.
That was two years ago. On Tuesday, Ford was sitting in an Androscoggin County Superior Courtroom defending himself on six related felony charges, including aggravated attempted murder, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. A seventh charge was changed to a misdemeanor.
On the first day of his trial, prosecutors showed nighttime video from the cruisers as they were rammed after high-speed chases, at least one clocked at speeds faster than 80 mph in a 35 mph zone. It also showed Cpl. Kristopher Bouchard fire four shots at the truck Ford was driving.
Deputy District Attorney Craig Turner told the jury of five men and nine women (including two alternates) about the chain of events the night of Sept. 15, 2008, that included three cruisers being disabled and a fourth being chased before Ford's eventual arrest. Four police officers testified that they tried unsuccessfully to get Ford to surrender.
The trouble began when Ford allegedly was spotted stealing two concrete cylinders from a company on Minot Avenue. When confronted by an officer, Ford fled in the Ford truck with a dump truck bed holding two well tiles. When the truck hit a bump at a bridge on Hotel Road, one of the cylinders fell off and shattered in the road, puncturing the tire of the cruiser driven by Officer David Madore.
Ford stopped for Bouchard, then backed into his cruiser twice at high speed, disabling the car.
Officer Matthew Johnson took up the chase. He caught up to Ford at the Poland Spring entrance. Ford stopped, then rammed Johnson's cruiser head-on after turning his truck around.
“He's trying to kill me,” Johnson can be heard shouting into his radio on the video footage that was played for the jury.
After Ford apparently attempted to ram a third cruiser, his truck was found abandoned on Hines Road in Poland. He had fled on foot, but was arrested later and taken by ambulance to Central Maine Medical Center where he was treated for his hip injury.
All of the officers involved in the chase that night said they saw only one person in the truck and that person matched Ford's description.
Darrick Banda, one of Ford's lawyers, told the jury during opening statements Tuesday that his client remembered little about the events of that night. He said he wouldn't dispute much of the detail given by police about what happened. But for the jury to find Ford guilty on all counts, prosecutors must prove more than that, he said.
“To be guilty of a crime takes more than someone committing bad acts,” Banda said. It's “what's in a person's mind,” that makes it a crime.
“His mental illness caused him to commit these alleged bad acts,” Banda said. For that reason, Ford didn't have the “intent” to murder Officer Johnson, as the Androscoggin County grand jury indictment charging Ford with aggravated attempted murder reads, Banda said.
Other counts in the indictment use words like “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly,” he said.
Ford, who served in the U.S. Army Reserves in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, “saw things no one should have to see,” Banda said. “He saw death; he saw destruction,” Banda said. And sometimes, he saw people dismembered.
The experience damaged him emotionally, leading to “classic symptoms” of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“He may encounter things in life that trigger flashbacks,” Banda told the jury. On Sept. 15, 2008, Ford was stressed about a property dispute with neighbors. His anti-depression medication had been doubled. He told his wife he was taking their truck to fill it with gas. She saw him next in the hospital.
He didn't remember what happened, except being shot and officers telling him to raise his hands, Banda said.
“When he learned what he had done, it crushed him to the point where he wanted to end his life,” Banda told the jurors.
“He thought he was in the Gulf War,” Banda said, likening his client to John Rambo in the Sylvester Stallone movie, “First Blood.”
Ford's PTSD, a brain injury from a car accident and heavy medication caused a perfect storm for the events of that night, Banda said.
A doctor will testify that Ford was psychotic at that time, Banda said.
The trial is expected to continue through the end of the week.