By Erich Wagner (File photo)
Craig Patterson, an Arlington County sheriff’s deputy, took the stand in Alexandria Circuit Court on Wednesday to give his version of the events that led to the fatal shooting of Julian Dawkins in May.
Patterson, who has been a lawman for 17 years, is charged with murder and the use of a firearm in the commission of a murder. He told jurors that after a conversation turned into an argument, Dawkins brandished a knife, prompting him to briefly leave the scene and retrieve his handcuffs to arrest the 22-year-old if necessary.
Patterson maintained that he thought he saw Dawkins holding a knife during their final encounter and shot the T.C. Williams graduate in self-defense. Investigators found a knife closed and inside of Dawkins’ pocket, but his phone was located near his hand.
The defendant said he was taking a late-night walk when he ran into Dawkins, who seemed intoxicated. Dawkins questioned Patterson about his ties to the neighborhood, which eventually turned argumentative.
Patterson said he then announced that he was a law enforcement officer.
“Then [Dawkins] said, ‘[Expletive] you, you’re not a cop, you don’t know anyone, you’re not from around here,’” Patterson said. “[Later] he turned back toward me and had a knife in hand.”
Patterson said he went to his car to retrieve his handcuffs, but he only intended to locate Dawkins again so he could call police.
Prosecutor Bryan Porter pressed him on his choice of actions after disengaging from the first encounter with Dawkins.
“Your cell phone was in your pocket, so why didn’t you call police?” Porter asked. “When you dropped your keys [on the way to your car], did you call police? Did it cross your mind?”
“I was going to call as soon as I located the young man,” Patterson said.
“When you got to your car [parked outside of your home], you could easily go in the house; Mr. Dawkins doesn’t know where you live,” Porter pressed. “Didn’t you think maybe you should get backup, even from your nephew [with whom you lived]?”
“I wanted to get eyes on him, call 911 and then, if necessary, detain him,” Patterson said.
“Didn’t you think to get your nephew to call the police?” Porter asked.
“We don’t communicate in that way,” Patterson said.
“You couldn’t say to your nephew that your life was in mortal danger?” Porter said.
Porter also grilled Patterson on whether his actions were consistent with the procedures of a police officer.
“Wouldn’t a police officer want backup engaging with a dangerous suspect?” he asked. “Why not call for backup?”
“I wanted to see him first so I could provide an accurate location,” Patterson said.
Porter continued in that vein, suggesting that there would have been other, safer ways of locating Dawkins without the off-duty deputy putting himself into harm’s way.
“You said you went to your car to get your handcuffs,” Porter said. “Wouldn’t it have been safer to return to the area in your vehicle?”
“That would have been a safer choice, yes,” Patterson responded.
And Porter asked the defendant about his reasoning for wanting to detain Dawkins. Patterson claimed that he wanted to prevent anyone else in the neighborhood from being threatened or assaulted, but the prosecutor pointed out that the deputy only saw two other people during an extensive walk throughout the area.
“He was a threat to who?” Porter asked. “There was no one in the street.”
“The public,” Patterson said.
“But there was no public,” Porter replied.
Before the defense began its case, Circuit Judge William Hamblen denied the team’s motion to strike the charge of first-degree murder on the grounds that the prosecution had failed to prove malice or premeditation. Hamblen said the fact that Patterson left the scene and returned meant the charge should remain available for the jury to consider.
The trial is expected to run through Friday.