In a desperate moment four years ago, Brockton police Officer David Alexis fired a bullet through his leather jacket and frantically yelled into his radio that he had just confronted a suspicious person. ''I've been shot!" he said. ''I've been shot!"
Alexis later conceded that he made the bogus call while on duty March 1, 2001, but not before it triggered a massive hunt for a nonexistent shooter, ultimately leading to the arrest several days later of Clifford Montrond, then 19, who spent nine days in jail before being exonerated.
''I wasn't thinking straight," Alexis told a federal court in Boston yesterday, in the opening day of testimony in a civil case Montrond has brought against him, three other officers, and the City of Brockton.
Alexis insisted he was only looking for a way out of his stressful job and never meant for Montrond, or anyone else, to be arrested. ''I didn't think it would make such a big deal," Alexis said. He was kicked off the police force and sentenced to a year in jail for fabricating the shooting.
Montrond is seeking unspecified damages for being falsely arrested.
The unusual case pits Alexis, an officer turned plumber who prays for forgiveness, against Montrond, the man he helped implicate in a crime that never existed.
Montrond's lawyer, Joseph F. Krowski of Brockton, said his client suffered during his nine days in jail, including seven in solitary confinement. ''If they had done an investigation," he said, ''they would have known it was a sham."
Alexis, 32, was the first witness called to testify in what is expected to be a weeklong trial over whether he and three Brockton police detectives, Dominic Persampieri, Timothy Stanton, and Michael Damiano, violated Montrond's civil rights by taking him into custody. A separate trial will be held involving Montrond's claims of negligence against the City of Brockton.
Alexis told jurors yesterday that he had been suffering from stress before the incident. He acknowledged that when he was called to investigate a meter reader's report of a gun hidden in some bushes, he kept the gun himself. Later, he said, he used it to fire a shot through his leather police jacket, barely missing his body.
Douglas I. Louison, a Boston lawyer representing the police detectives, played jurors a tape of Alexis's urgent call to a dispatcher. First he said he was stepping out of his cruiser to question a suspicious person. Then he cried, ''He's got a gun!" and ''I've been shot!" and ''I'm running after him."
Alexis said he never positively identified Montrond as the shooter. But he acknowledged he helped a sketch artist create a composite drawing of the alleged shooter and then identified Montrond from a photo array as someone who looked like the composite.
Montrond was released from jail after police confirmed his alibi, that he was working at his uncle's Jiffy Lube in Newton at the time of the shooting. After Montrond's release, Alexis confessed that the shooting was a lie.
During opening arguments yesterday, Louison said the three detectives believed Alexis at the time and were merely doing their jobs when they arrested Montrond.
''There was no reason why these guys would think that he was faking it," said Louison, who added that the detectives later tracked down a witness who corroborated Montrond's alibi.
Louison also challenged Montrond's assertion that he suffered emotional distress from his nine days in jail, saying he had spent time in jail both before and after the incident on other charges. It's unclear whether US District Judge Rya W. Zobel will allow jurors to hear evidence that Montrond was recently convicted of a gun charge and is currently in state custody.
After testifying yesterday, Alexis said in an interview that he wanted to apologize to Montrond and his family, his own family, and the city for what he did.
''At that time, I was just so depressed," Alexis said. ''There's no way to explain it. I was just down so low I couldn't get back up."
After three years on the Police Department he could no longer handle the job, Alexis said. ''I just wanted a way out."
Alexis said he's representing himself because he cannot afford a lawyer.
Now, Alexis said, he spends a lot of time praying. He said he hopes to be forgiven by family members who stopped talking to him.
''Hopefully this will be a lesson to young officers out there who are stressed," Alexis said. ''If you need time off, take time off."