A St. Johns County jury said Wednesday the man accused of shooting at a St. Augustine police officer more than two years ago is not guilty of attempted second-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, but was guilty of carrying a concealed firearm the night he was arrested.
It took the jury of three men and three women about two hours to bring back their verdict at the end of the two-day trial that saw testimony from at least five police officers, two experts and the defendant himself.
Charles Deonte Patten, 34, was arrested in the early morning hours of June 28, 2015, after St. Augustine Police Officer Lora Vaughn and others responded to the area of O’Steen’s restaurant in the 200 block of Anastasia Boulevard just after 2 a.m., following reports of gunshots.
Through the testimony of responding officers during the first day of the trial and surveillance video of Patten taken from O’Steen’s restaurant, assistant state attorneys Sam Frazer and Tim Pribisco tried to show Patten intentionally fired a shot at Vaughn as he was running from her patrol vehicle, through a breezeway between two buildings at the restaurant.
In the video, Patten can be seen falling, dropping one gun and, while attempting to get up, firing a shot from another gun toward Anastasia Boulevard before regaining his footing and running through the breezeway toward Arricola Avenue.
In his closing argument Wednesday, Pribisco told jurors Patten’s actions that night were “akin to the car in the crowded plaza” and could have easily killed Vaughn.
According to Patten’s own testimony, in which he alluded to suffering from some sort of mental breakdown the night of the incident, he was under the influence of alcohol and cocaine, and was firing shots off in the air, before police arrived.
Running from an officer, then turning and firing in her direction, as authorities said the video showed, was sufficient to secure a conviction for the attempted murder charge, Pribisco argued.
But assistant public defenders John Morris and David Cianci had been hard at work sowing doubt as to what the video actually showed, and attacked the idea Patten had ever intended to pull the trigger while in the breezeway.
To do that, they called Michael Knox, a crime scene reconstruction specialist, who testified individuals can sometimes accidentally pull the trigger of a gun, as what was referred to as a “sympathetic” response to squeezing something with their opposite hand.
While he couldn’t say Patten unintentionally pulled the trigger while in the breezeway, Knox testified he couldn’t definitively say the trigger pull was intentional either because the muzzle flash, which goes off near Patten’s knee in the video, occurs at the same Patten is trying to stand back up and grabbing a railing with his opposite hand.
“That’s reasonable doubt,” Cianci told jurors later in the day during his closing argument.
Apart from that, Cianci argued the police officers’ own actions the night of the incident proved they didn’t believe Patten was trying to kill any of them.
He painted a picture of a bizarre string of events in which Patten walked through the neighborhood and fired at least eight shots into the air, both before and after the breezeway encounter, and officers were never threatened to the point that they fired back at him.
“Why didn’t they ventilate him right there?” he asked.
Instead, Cianci said, they did their jobs, showed restraint and arrested him “safely” after calling him out from behind a fence where he was hiding.
“That says volumes about what police thought,” he said.
The verdict brings to a close one chapter for Patten, who, in the years leading up to the trial, has gone through at least two assistant public defenders, an additional court-appointed attorney and attempted at least twice to represent himself.
Maltz scheduled sentencing for the concealed firearm charge for Feb. 6.
Because he has prior felony convictions, Patten could face up to 10 years in prison for that charge.
He is also facing three counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Those charges stem from the same 2015 incident, but were severed from this week’s trial. He is scheduled for a mid-February trial for those charges and, depending how his prior convictions are handled, could be facing 30 years for each of those.