The cops made false statements that the fleeing driver had shot at police before he was shot
Updated on June 22, 2017 at 5:54 PM
By Caitlin Mota
The Jersey Journal
JERSEY CITY, NJ - At a detention hearing for the man accused of causing a fiery crash that critically injured an innocent bystander, both the state and defense provided a more detailed look at the six-mile pursuit that has led to a shakeup in the city's police department.
Leo Pinkston, 48, is charged with second-degree aggravated assault and second-degree eluding for the June 4 crash on Tonnelle Avenue. Superior Court Judge Paul DePascale ordered Pinkston be held in jail while he awaits trial.
During the 30-minute hearing Thursday afternoon, officials described the crash in more detail and discussed Pinkston's extensive out-of-state criminal history.
Hudson County Assistant Prosecutor Najma Rana said Pinkston was double-parked near Ocean and Cator avenues on the night of June 4. Police officers Anthony Roman and Glenda Icabalceta approached his dark SUV because it resembled a vehicle used in a shooting the night before.
Those two officers followed Pinkston's car when he sped away from them, but they terminated their pursuit when their unmarked car had "mechanical failure." Other officers picked up the pursuit, which city officials said proceeded up a large portion of Kennedy Boulevard.
Defense attorney Thomas Ashley said based on police reports he reviewed, officers MD Khan and Erik Kosinski shot at Pinkston's car on Tonnelle Avenue near Carlton Avenue and officer Francisco Rodriguez opened fire about two blocks away near the Manhattan Avenue intersection. Ashley said police initially shot at the car because a police sergeant had radioed reports that Pinkston fired at police first.
No evidence has been found that Pinkston had a gun or that shots were fired at police. All three officers were suspended without pay and two deputy chiefs were reassigned as a result of the pursuit.
Ashley argued the chase began because of a "mistaken approach" by police officers. The high-speed chase ended in a fiery crash near North Street on Tonnelle Avenue. Pinkston collided with a car driven by 28-year-old Miguel Feliz and both vehicles hit a utility pole. Feliz was critically injured and video shows officers kicking the innocent man when he emerged from his burning car. The Newark-based defense attorney said Pinkston crashed because of the gunshot wound he suffered to his leg.
Rana, however, said the state doesn't have to prove the traffic stop was lawful and only has to provide enough evidence that Pinkston was the driver and did not listen to officers' commands to pull over.
Pinkston has a criminal history in three states - Florida, Texas, and New York - and served five years in prison for attempted murder. Rana said the 48-year-old was flagged for being at an elevated risk of violence during his public safety assessment.
Additionally, Rana said, Pinkston allegedly admitted to hospital staff he had been doing drugs that night saying "man I've been smoking cocaine all night I don't remember that" while watching news coverage of the crash on television. She also pointed to a statement Pinkston's wife made to The Jersey Journal about his troubled past with substance abuse.
"Based upon the multiple violent offenses ... this defendant does merit an elevated risk of violence flagged," DePascale said as he ordered Pinkston be held in jail while the prosecution continues. "This man is alleged to have engaged in, and attempt(ed) to elude police resulting in a high-speed chase, and (injured a member of the public)."
A handful of Pinkston's family members, including his wife and children, were in the courtroom for the hearing and rushed out after DePascale's ruling. Pinkston, wearing green prison garb and with his hands cuffed behind his back, did not speak.
Outside the courthouse, Ashley said he was disappointed with the judge's decision.
"Certainly I felt that it was important that the court consider the fact that there were false statements made that my client had shot at police before he was shot at and I think they should have considered that as an extenuating circumstance."
Pinkston is scheduled to appear in court again on July 27.
Illegal traffic stops are the norm in New Jersey. The most common excuse is to claim that the driver was swerving to the left or right. Then, they stop the car, they put him in handcuffs and they search his vehicle without any probable cause and without reading the driver his rights. Corrupt to the bone. These types of horror stories are too many to report here.