CINCINNATI — Two Cincinnati police officers accused of covering up a crash involving a third officer in Over-the-Rhine early last year were in court to stand trial this week, and the witness who said he saw the whole thing took the stand Thursday.
Defense attorneys grilled witness Arthur Lacey, demanding to know exactly what he saw the night he told police he thought he saw an intoxicated Andrew Mitchell — a Cincinnati police officer, off duty at the time — crash a Honda Odyssey into a pole on West McMicken last March.
For the officers’ attorneys, the difference between an innocent and guilty verdict lay in the details.
The March 22 crash triggered an investigation by the Cincinnati Police Department Internal Investigations Unit, which subsequently accused Jason Cotterman, 38, and Richard Sulfsted, 48 — also both Cincinnati PD — of hiding Mitchell from other officers and witnesses after the crash, driving him home, and refusing to properly investigate the incident.
Lacey was one of several witnesses that called 911 to report an erratic driver, according to police records.
Cotterman and Sulfsted pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice in July.
Now in court, Lacey took to the witness stand to defend his account of what happened.
“I was very angry that he almost hit me,” he said in court. “I was very angry. I was mad. That’s what made me go after him to get his plates.
“Not one time did (Cotterman or Sulfsted) hear what I had to say about what happened.”
But defense attorneys were quick to question Lacey’s credibility as a witness, pointing out what they called inconsistencies in the details of his initial report.
Specifically, the defense said Lacey initially reported he was in the car alone, only to say later that his girlfriend was also in the car.
Sulfsted’s attorney, Merlyn Shiverdecker, also pressed Lacey about who initially dialed 911 and when. Lacey first said he dialed 911, but then in court said his girlfriend dialed 911 before handing him the phone.
“Did you lie about anything else?” Shiverdecker asked.
“No,” Lacey said.
“If you said this at that time, that’s inconsistent with what you’re saying today,” Shiverdecker charged.
The officers’ trial is expected to last throughout the week. A bench trial, a judge, rather than a jury, will decide the verdict.