A Municipal Court judge who disapproved of a defense attorney’s method of questioning last week cut short the preliminary hearing for a Frankford man accused of pulling a gun on an off-duty police officer last April.
Joshua Taylor, 23, of the 4600 block of Worth St., on Thursday was ordered to stand trial for attempted murder, aggravated assault, assault of a police officer, carrying firearms in public and related charges.
On April 25, off-duty officer Larry Shields allegedly spotted Taylor carrying a gun in his hand in the street outside of Taylor’s home. When Shields identified himself as a police officer and attempted to investigate, Taylor ran into his home, authorities claim. Shields followed the man and shot him once in front of the defendant’s wife and two young children.
Taylor spent weeks in the hospital recovering from internal injuries and was charged criminally on Sept. 20.
Shields has been absolved of wrongdoing in the case.
The officer, a 17-year veteran assigned to the 18th Police District in West Philadelphia, was the primary prosecution witness at the preliminary hearing. But it was defense attorney Mark B. Frost’s cross-examination of Shields that appeared most compelling to Judge Thomas F. Gehret.
Frost questioned Shields at length about the blow-by-blow of the altercation with Taylor. The defender inquired if Taylor walked or ran into his own house; which way Taylor faced when Shields identified himself as an officer; how hard Taylor shut the front door behind him; where Shields was standing when Taylor pointed a gun at him; and many other minute details.
The judge cautioned Frost several times against repeating questions and repeating or paraphrasing Shields’ testimony as a lead-in to particular questions.
Unlike a trial, where the prosecution must prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a preliminary hearing is considered a “prima facie” proceeding in which the prosecution must demonstrate merely the basic facts of a case that justify a full trial.
Typically, defense attorneys do not introduce witnesses at a preliminary hearing, but will try to draw testimony from prosecution witnesses that may be used to hinder the prosecution’s case at trial.
In cross-examining Shields, Frost offered a rapid-fire succession of lengthy questions that the witness met with generally terse replies. Gehret interrupted Frost and asked him bluntly, “Do you have a question? What is your question?”
Frost paused. Gehret ended the cross-examination and the hearing, ordering Taylor to be held for trial. Sheriff’s deputies led the defendant out of the courtroom into a holding area.
Frost did not return a telephone message requesting comment on the case.
Since the day of the shooting, Taylor’s family has insisted that Shields caused the confrontation and that Taylor, a union roofer by trade, was the victim.
A printed statement released by the district attorney’s office on Friday supported Shields’ account of events.
The officer was off-duty and in civilian clothing. He was helping a relative move into a house on the same block where Taylor lives.
“As he was unloading a truck, he observed Joshua Taylor outside of another home on the street with a gun in his hand. Officer Shields identified himself as a police officer and approached Taylor; Taylor took off and ran inside a home on Worth Street. Shields ran after Taylor, following him inside his home,” the DA’s office said in the statement.
In court, Shields testified that he was standing on the front stoop of Taylor’s house when Taylor slammed the front door shut. But instead of closing, the door bounced off the frame and remained open.
Shields said that Taylor then pointed a gun at him, so Shields pulled his own gun and shot Taylor once.
Shields testified that he was standing in the doorway of the house when he fired. The DA’s statement indicates that Shields was inside the house when the final confrontation occurred.
Taylor’s weapon was loaded with 17 live rounds and recovered from the floor of the house. Taylor lawfully owned his gun, the DA’s office said, but did not have a license to carry it in public.
Authorities interviewed “several witnesses who corroborated these events,” the DA’s office said.
According to news reports, witnesses also told investigators that Shields and Taylor had argued over a parking spot earlier on the day of the shooting. The DA’s statement did not mention a prior argument.
Taylor’s wife, Brittany, told Fox 29 last month that Taylor could not have pointed a gun at Shields.
“When Josh came and ran in the house, I saw the gun fall out of his pocket,” the woman said.
Brittany Taylor further theorized that, if Shields felt threatened by her husband, the officer should have held his ground outside the house and called for backup, but he didn’t.
Joshua Taylor suffered liver damage and spent three weeks in a coma, his wife said. He remains in custody at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in lieu of 10 percent of $500,000 bail. He is to be arraigned in Common Pleas Court on Oct. 27. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org