- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - He saw the gun and glimpsed the muzzle flash. And then, Detective Thomas Richards softly told a court Tuesday, “I felt something hit me like a sledgehammer.”

He thought he’d been shot. But a spare ammunition magazine on his gun belt had shielded him from a bullet that police officials said would have gone right into his body had the shot hit just an inch higher.

Nearly two years after what became a running gun battle on Manhattan streets, Richards recalled it at accused gunman Luis Martinez’ attempted murder trial.

Police and prosecutors say Martinez, 26, brazenly fired at Richards and his partner when they approached him. Martinez’ lawyer says that he didn’t realize the people who confronted him were officers and that they fired first.

By Richards‘ account, he and Officer Thomas Dunne were patrolling Manhattan’s Lower East Side in a van around 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 27, 2012, when they stopped so Dunne could speak to someone he knew. Dunne saw Martinez walking up the street and turning tail when he spotted the officers.

When they caught up with Martinez about half a block away, Richards recalled, he got out of the van and said something like, “Hey, what’s going on?”

“Whoa. Whoa. Whoa,” Martinez responded as he reached for his waistband, according to Richards. Then Martinez pulled a gun and fired at him and Dunne, who was behind him, Richards said.

Richards said he fired five shots, Martinez ran and shot at him again, Dunne fired several rounds, and both officers chased Martinez around a couple of corners.

“I thought the bullet was in my leg, at first. I was in a lot of pain. There was a burning in my left leg, and I had trouble breathing,” Richards said.

Then he tried to reload his weapon, saw that one of his spare magazines was dented and soon realized what had happened.

Richards wasn’t seriously injured.

Martinez had been shot in the buttocks, and the chase had left a trail of blood to an apartment building where he was arrested.

His lawyer, Matthew Myers, said Martinez was startled and frightened when confronted in the middle of the night by two men he didn’t recognize as police. They were in uniform, but the van was unmarked. Martinez fired only after the officers shot at him, his lawyer said.

“He had no reason to pull a gun out and start shooting at cops,” Myers said outside court.

If convicted, Martinez could face up to life in prison.

Richards joined the police force in 2005. He and Dunne got a police award for their conduct during the shootout and were later promoted to detective.

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Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jennpeltz

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