Officer Matthews' supervisor testifies in Pierce trial

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - The second day of testimony kicked off just before 10:00 Wednesday morning in one of the most watched court cases in New Hanover County.

Anthony Pierce is facing second degree murder charges in the death of Wilmington Police Officer Richard Matthews.  Matthews died after crashing his patrol car while on his way to assist an officer chasing Pierce in an SUV.

Sgt. Will Richards, who was Matthews' supervisor the night of the crash, continued his testimony by pointing out the chase route on a large map of Wilmington.

Richards was the man who initially tried to stop the SUV Pierce was driving Feb. 18, 2009.  He says this chase was the most intense he had ever been involved in as a police officer.

According to Richards, the police department's pursuit policy requires officers to continually asses the risks associated with the chase including traffic, weather conditions and importance of catching the suspect.  Richards testified he felt the need to continue pursuing the SUV when he saw one-pound bags of marijuana thrown from the windows.

"The first thing that I noticed was the size of the bag and that it was marijuana," said Sgt. Richards.

Richards said he called for backup because he was uncertain what the men inside the SUV would try to do once the car was stopped.

"If there was a time I needed help it was when I made the stop," Sgt. Richards explained, choking up.

The courtroom was silent as District Attorney Ben David began showing the jury the dash cam video from Richards' patrol car the night of the chase.

Matthews' mother, Margaret, wiped away tears while she watch the video show the chase, drugs thrown from the windows, the arrests, and the search for drugs when the stop was complete.

After a brief recess, Richards began describing what happened when he learned Officer Matthews was in an accident.

"After I learned about it," Richards explained. "I had to catch my breath for a minute and I had to tell my trainee. As soon as I told him, he kind of lost it. Pete was still very distraught. I told him to stand up - we still had a job to do."

Richards said once they arrested Pierce and the passengers in the SUV, the officers had to search for the bags of marijuana that had been thrown out of the vehicle.

Just before noon, Defense Attorney Andrew Waters began cross-examining Richards, saying he thinks his testimony in this case would be "colored" by his involvement in the events. Richards agreed that he probably held some bias in the case, but added that Pierce is in court for a fair trial and that he was just stating the facts.

Waters moved Richards' testimony was based on an illegal traffic stop because he had no probable cause to stop the vehicle.  Judge Phyllis Gorham denied the motion.

Richards said the Sheriff's Office had issued a BOLO for a silver Cadillac Escalade earlier in the week, which is part of the reason he began following Pierce's SUV.

After lunch, Waters continued questioning Richards and went through the chase turn by turn.  Even as the SUV started to stop, "the nature of the chase never got any less serious," said Richards.  He says the chase was at its maximum when the vehicle stopped.

"Now I am forced to make contact with these guys to determine if they're going to give up or if they're going to fight," said Richards.

After reviewing part of the video, Waters suggests Richards never specifically asked for assistance.  Richards asserted officers would have known he needed help by the information provided over the radio.

According to Wilmington Police Department policy, officers should respond immediately if they know another officer is in danger or is in a situation that could become dangerous.

Richards finished on the witness stand around 4:15 Wednesday afternoon.  Officer Allison Jahreis, who was the officer behind Matthews when he lost control of his patrol car, was the next to testify.

"Rich was a very proactive officer," Officer Jahreis explained. "He ran into the fire, he didn't run out."

Jahreis testified she saw Matthews' car veer to the left and could see the patrol car had crashed into the tree line when she got closer.

"There was blood everywhere," said Jahreis. "I remember putting my hands on his back and just talking to him."

Jahreis was shaken up in the courtroom as the jury watched the dash cam video from her vehicle.  The tape seemed to have been the most emotionally difficult evidence submitted so far.  Margaret left the courtroom in tears and people on both sides of the courtroom looked away as the video played.

Court adjourned at 5:00 Wednesday evening and will reconvene Thursday morning.

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