After Deliberating Four Hours, Jury Finds Bellaire Police Sergeant Not Guilty
After deliberating about four hours, a Harris County jury found Bellaire Police Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton not guilty of aggravated assault in the shooting of Bellaire resident Robbie Tolan on the lawn of the Tolan family home on Dec. 31, 2008.
Cotton maintained he thought Tolan was reaching for a weapon and fired in self-defense.
Prosecutors maintained Cotton acted recklessly in the shooting.
As the verdict in the week-long trial was announced, the courtroom was filled with members of both the Tolan and Cotton families, as well as a number of Cotton’s fellow officers.
Leaving the courtroom after hearing the “not guilty” verdict, Cotton said he was relieved the trial was over.
“I’m glad that it’s over,” Cotton said on his way out of the courtroom. “I just want to get back to work.”
Cotton’s defense attorney, Paul Aman, echoed his client’s comments.
“We’re very, very happy,” Aman said. “Jeff was never guilty of these charges.”
Aman said Cotton leaned over and said “thank you” when he heard the not guilty verdict.
“He was devastated when he found out Tolan didn’t have a gun,” Aman said. “Is he happy he was shot? Of course not.”
Cotton has been on administrative leave since the shooting and will know more about returning to duty after he has an opportunity to meet with Bellaire Police Chief Randall Mack, Aman said.
Assistant DA Donna Hawkins spoke on behalf of prosecutor Clint Greenwood, who did not make himself available for interviews.
“We respect their decision,” Hawkins said. “The family’s been through a rough time.”
The Tolan family issued a statement through their lawyers, Geoff Berg and George Gibson. The family still has a multi-million dollar lawsuit pending against Cotton and the City of Bellaire over the shooting.
“We are obviously disappointed that the jury did not convict Jeffrey Cotton. While we respectfully disagree with the decision they came to, we thank the jury for its service,” the statement said. “We hope that change will soon come to Bellaire so that people of all backgrounds feel safe living, working and traveling through the city. That hasn’t happened yet, so we have to keep fighting.”
The statement also sent a clear message the litigation over Tolan’s shooting is not over.
“The fight now moves to federal court. There the defendants and charges are different and the standard is not the same,” the statement said. “We remain hopeful that our family may still find justice.”