PHILADELPHIA — Antonio Coulter apparently had a grudge against Police Officer Richard Decoatsworth because of a street stop last year, so when he saw Decoatsworth a month later, he shot the cop in the face.
A hefty Coulter, 20, pleaded guilty yesterday to attempted murder and related offenses in the September shooting in which he fired a sawed-off shotgun filled with birdshot at the cop.
Decoatsworth, then a 21-year-old rookie officer, didn't hear the blast, but felt "as though he were hit with a sledgehammer in the face," Assistant District Attorney Mark Levenberg said in court.
With blood gushing from his partly torn face, Decoatsworth bravely chased Coulter for three blocks in West Philadelphia until he collapsed.
Asked by reporters what had been on his mind when he chased Coulter, Decoatsworth said: "This is what I've signed up for: to take people like this off the street. . . . My biggest concern at that time was, 'Who is he going to do this to next? Another officer? An innocent child? An innocent bystander?' That's really the motivation that was keeping me going."
Earlier in court, Coulter pleaded guilty before Common Pleas Judge Glenn Bronson to nine charges, including attempted murder, weapons offenses, resisting arrest and trespassing. He faces a maximum of 114 years in prison when Bronson sentences him June 25.
The commonwealth and defense have not made any deal in terms of sentencing.
Levenberg said that if this case had gone to trial, a witness would have testified that Coulter had complained to a cousin about previously being stopped by police, and that he wouldn't be "live-stopped" again.
Coulter then had asked about guns, according to this witness.
After the hearing, Levenberg told reporters: "As the witness said, he [Coulter] told his cousin that the next time he was live-stopped, he was going to shoot the police officer and he wasn't going to be live-stopped anymore."
Levenberg later explained that about a month before Coulter shot Decoatsworth, the officer stopped Coulter and others on a West Philadelphia street after he thought Coulter "was rolling a blunt," a marijuana-filled cigar.
The item turned out to be tobacco, and Coulter and his friends were then let go, Levenberg said.
Decoatsworth, now 22, said after the hearing that he didn't recall the specifics of that stop.
He said "it was tough" being in court seeing Coulter for the first time since the shooting.
"I'm a human being," he said. "You get emotional, you get upset, you get angry. But like I said, you have to tuck those things away. That's one of the hardest things to do in this job is to keep your emotions aside from your work."
Decoatsworth said he's eager to return to his job as a cop, which he called "the best job in the world."
In reading a lengthy summary of evidence against Coulter in court, Levenberg cited numerous witnesses he would have called at trial, DNA evidence and Coulter's confession.
Levenberg said that about 9 a.m. Sept. 24, Decoatsworth, who was in his patrol car, spotted Coulter's Buick LeSabre and saw three juvenile male passengers inside, which appeared strange on a school day.
The Buick then disappeared, and when he spotted it again, the officer realized it had backed up the wrong way on Farson Street near Market. Coulter lived on that block and had parked the Buick on the street.
After Decoatsworth got out of his car, Coulter popped up from the driver's side of the Buick and fired the shotgun over the roof, hitting the officer in the face.
Decoatsworth chased Coulter despite his injuries, while also calling on his police radio, Levenberg said.
Coulter said in a statement that he had been aiming at the officer's head. He said he had shot Decoatsworth because he thought the officer had seen the shotgun and he didn't want to get arrested.