A driver who allegedly told police officers “my cousin has already run over one of you, I’m not scared of running over two more” told them he was taking a sick child to a health centre when they stopped him last weekend, a court heard on Friday.
Justin James Grima was denied bail on Friday following an initial hearing in which the court heard from officers involved in last weekend's incident.
Mr Grima was arrested last Saturday after he allegedly drove towards two officers who had stopped him in Ħamrun, after they noticed his Mitsubishi Shogun was equipped with tinted glass.
During the first hearing in the compilation of evidence against Mr Grima, a traffic sergeant recalled how a woman and child had exited the Mitsubishi after he had pulled it over by Mile End that Saturday afternoon.
The officer said he had told Mr Grima to follow him to the police garage, to be booked and ordered to replace his vehicle’s tinted glass. This was standard practice in such cases, he said.
Mr Grima first appeared to be following the police bike but suddenly made a U-turn, shouted insults towards the officer and headed towards Daniel’s Shopping Complex. His driving became reckless, the officer said.
When Mr Grima was stopped for a second time, he said he was worried about his sick child.
The police officer admitted that Mr Grima had told him he was taking the child to a health centre.
Defence lawyer Franco Debono repeatedly asked whether Mr Grima had asked the officer “may I take them to the polyclinic and then come straight to the garage?”
The officer denied this.
“I assumed it was just an excuse at the time,” the traffic policeman said, pointing out that at that moment Mr Grima had been alone in his vehicle.
Mr Grima ignored repeated orders to switch off his car’s engine and the officer had called for backup.
When a second traffic policeman reached the area, the first officer was still trying to get Mr Grima to hand over his key.
The first officer had parked his bike around one-and-a-half metres behind the Mitsubishi, with the second officer stopping his bike close to the front part of the vehicle, sideways on the road.
Mr Grima was on his mobile phone and was heard asking “is the girl alright?”
“Hand over the key!” the first officer had repeatedly ordered, as people spilled out of the nearby shops, attracted by the commotion, taking to their mobile phones to grab footage of the incident.
“You won’t take my vehicle. It’s the apple of my eye,” Mr Grima said as he got out of the van, wearing the key ring around his middle finger and pointing the key in the direction of the two officers.
“My cousin has already run over one of you and I won’t mind running over two more,” he had allegedly threatened.
Mr Grima is a cousin of Liam Debono, who stands accused of a hit-and-run offence which which left police officer Simon Schembri without a limb.
Following that threat, Mr Grima got back behind the wheel. That prompted the first officer to reach in through the window to try and remove the key, not knowing at the time that the SUV’s automatic transmission meant it had to be set to ‘park’ for the key to be released from the ignition switch.
As the officer wrestled for the key, Mr Grima allegedly put both hands on the policeman’s. The engine suddently switched on and the SUV moved forward, hitting and extensively damaging the police motorcycle parked in front, before stopping again.
Prosecuting Inspector Matthew Galea testified that following the arrest, when releasing his statement, the accused had said “Dak il-hin kont imfixkel u ma nafx.” [I was confused at the time, I don’t know]
Inspector Pierguido Saliba, also prosecuting, declared on the witness stand that Mr Grima had later explained that he recalled nothing of the incident and had “panicked because he did not like the attitude of the officers.”
The driver had not tested positively when subjected to a breathalyser test, Inspector Saliba told the court, presided over by magistrate Monica Vella.
A search of the suspect had also yielded a key used to unlock handcuffs, the court was also told.
Magistrate Vella subsequently denied Mr Grima bail, noting that he had been convicted of similar charges in the past, seemed unwilling to refrain from such behaviour and could not be trusted to respect bail conditions.
Lawyers Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia are defence counsel.
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