On April 10, 1997, 29-year-old Sandra Adams, a Rochester police officer, was driving to a community college when the motorist in front of her abruptly hit the brakes. The driver, 35-year-old William Cross, later told police that Adams drove around him on the left, pointed a pistol at him, and then sped off.
Cross wrote down the license plate number and notified police. At first, he described the driver as Hispanic (Adams is African American), but he subsequently identified Adams in a photographic lineup that was highly suggestive because Adams was the only African American and the only person wearing a police uniform.
Adams denied pointing a gun at Cross, but admitted she had flipped the middle finger at him as she drove by. On May 1, 1997, Adams was charged with second degree menacing and was suspended from the police department with pay.
At trial in September 1998, Cross and his wife both testified that Adams had pointed a gun at them. Adams testified that she was on disability at the time after injuring her right shoulder while on duty in February 1997, although she had been cleared to drive. Adams said that her gun was at home and that even if she had had it, she did not have the strength to lift it due to her injury. The defense argued that because the windows of Adams’ car were dark tinted, it would have been impossible for Cross to see a gun.
On September 2, 1998, the jury convicted Adams of second-degree menacing and she was fired by the Rochester Police Department.
After the trial, Cross was arrested for seven traffic violations. Adams’ defense attorney also discovered that over several years, Cross, under several different aliases, had racked up nearly 30 traffic violations, including 22 license suspensions. When Adams’ attorney accused the prosecution of misconduct, a senior prosecutor in the Ocean County District Attorney’s office investigated and confirmed that the evidence had been withheld.
In January 1999, while Adams was awaiting sentencing, a motion for a new trial was filed by the defense based on the failure to disclose the records. The prosecution did not oppose the motion and Adams was granted a new trial.
In June 1999, Adams went on trial for a second time. Cross testified, “I was terrified. I’ll never forget that gun or the smile on her face.” Cross’s wife also again testified that she saw Adams pointing a gun. Cross admitted that he had numerous prior traffic citations and that he was driving on a suspended license on the day he said Adams threatened him with a gun.
Adams again testified that the only thing she pointed at Cross was her middle finger and that her gun had been at home in its holster in her closet. She said that because of her injured shoulder, which had been separated during a struggle while making an arrest, she had not been able to lift her gun at the time of the incident.
On June 14, 1999, Brighton Town Court Justice James Morris, who heard the trial without a jury, acquitted Adams. The judge said Cross’s driving record had damaged his credibility and he questioned whether Cross could see clearly inside the tinted windows of Adams’ car.
In July 1999, Adams was reinstated to her $50,000-a-year job as a police officer.
– Maurice Possley