- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - A man charged with shooting at a police officer whose gun belt shielded him from the bullet told jurors Monday he acted out of fear for his life, saying he didn’t recognize the men who confronted him on a nighttime street as police.

“I reacted, basically, on fear. I thought somebody was going to kill me,” Luis Martinez testified at his attempted murder trial.

Police and prosecutors, however, say Martinez brashly opened fire on two officers who approached him on Feb. 27, 2012, sparking a gun battle and chase that spread across a few blocks of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Martinez drew officers’ attention by abruptly turning around and walking away when he saw them on patrol, Detective Thomas Richards testified earlier this month. He said he went up to Martinez and asked him what was going on, and Martinez abruptly pulled a gun and fired.

“I felt something hit me like a sledgehammer,” said Richards. He thought he’d been shot. But a spare ammunition magazine on his gun belt had deflected the bullet, which police officials said came within an inch of tearing into him.

Richards said he shot back, Martinez ran and fired at him again, and Richards‘ partner fired several rounds. Martinez was shot in the buttocks.

Martinez, who said he was a neighborhood marijuana dealer, told jurors the encounter happened at a time when he was worried for his safety because he’d recently been held up twice, though he hadn’t reported any robberies to police. He feared retaliation if he did, he said.

The officers were uniformed but arrived in an unmarked van around 1:30 a.m., and Martinez said he didn’t realize they were police.

“The incident at hand was a terrible thing. I regret it every day,” he said.

If convicted, the 26-year-old could face up to life in prison.


Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.

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