ELYRIA — Martin Robinson believed law enforcement officers were there to kill him when they surrounded his home during a standoff in Sheffield Lake on May 31, according to his defense attorney.
Opening statements and the first day of testimony in the trial of Robinson, 40, of Sheffield Lake, took place Thursday. Robinson was indicted on 22 counts, including attempted aggravated murder and attempted murder, in connection with the shooting of Amherst police Officer Eugene “J.R.” Ptacek during the standoff.
Reid Yoder, Robinson’s defense attorney, said the jury couldn’t completely understand his client’s actions during the standoff without going back to the events of July 10, 2009, when four Cleveland police officers “violently assaulted” Robinson while he was doing his job as a corrections officer at a state prison facility.
Robinson sued the Cleveland Police Department and eventually received a settlement of nearly $1 million.
“Nobody in the Cleveland Police Department was happy with the outcome of that case,” Yoder said. “Martin had a traumatic brain injury that he suffered as a result of the brutal beating he received from Cleveland police.”
Yoder also said that his client believed that all police were conspiring to ruin his life to get back at him for winning the settlement. When U.S. Marshals and the Lorain County SWAT team surrounded his home in May, Robinson was sure he knew why they were there, Yoder said.
“Martin will tell you himself that on the night of May 31, he was defending himself,” Yoder said. “He knew in his heart that they were going to kill him. When his door came open, he defended himself.”
However, law enforcement officials testified they were not there to kill Robinson. Instead, they were there to arrest him on a bench warrant after he failed to appear in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court for a pretrial hearing.
While Yoder said Robinson was unaware of why law enforcement officials were at his home, officers testified they made announcements for hours through a public address system telling Robinson why they were there and to give himself up.
They also testified that they had no idea who Robinson was or what his history with Cleveland police had been. When asked if the standoff had been retaliation for what had happened in 2009, one officer said, “That’s absurd.”
The Lorain County SWAT team eventually parked a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle, or an MRAP, in his front yard and continued making announcements through its PA system.
After hours of Robinson not responding to officers, the SWAT team attempted to open the front door to call in and eventually place a camera-equipped robot in the home so they could see what was going on.
Victor Ortiz and Ptacek had just breached the door when Ortiz looked in and saw a muzzle flash. Ortiz testified that he pulled his head back and then saw Ptacek dive away.
Initially Ortiz thought Ptacek had avoided injury, but then he saw blood squirting out, he testified. A firefight ensued with Robinson trading shots with law enforcement.
Ptacek was eventually pulled to safety behind the MRAP, and Ortiz was able to disengage from the shootout in an attempt to help his fellow officer. Ortiz said he could tell immediately that Ptacek’s injuries were bad.
“J.R. kept looking up at us asking ‘How bad is it?’ “ Ortiz said before choking up and stopping.
Ortiz eventually decided to have the MRAP drive Ptacek to safety where he could be picked up by an ambulance and flown to Cleveland for treatment. In making that decision, he left three other SWAT team members “hanging in the wind” as they continued to engage with Robinson in a shootout.
Hours after the shootout, Robinson gave himself up, after officers fired canisters of tear gas into the home and brought a second MRAP vehicle to the scene.
On Thursday afternoon, the jury in the trial was taken out to the parking lot of the Lorain County Justice Center so they could see the Lorain County MRAP vehicle in person.
Testimony in the trial will resume Monday morning.
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