Reams held for court
SUNBURY - "The officer needed to do what was done."
That statement taken by police from a woman who witnessed 17-year-old Naheem J. Reams get shot in the torso by a Sunbury police officer after the teen attempted to run him over at the conclusion of a June 5 high-speed chase through the city and other testimony helped convince Magisterial District Judge Benjamin Apfelbaum to hold the defendant Tuesday afternoon for the Court of Common Pleas on all criminal charges.
The judge ruled enough prima facie evidence was presented by the commonwealth to order a pre-trial conference in the case at 1:15 p.m. Nov. 1 at Northumberland County Courthouse.
Apfelbaum also denied a request by Reams' attorney, Timothy Bowers, to reduce his client's $750,000 cash bail and remanded him to the county jail.
The two-hour plus hearing included testimony from one of three Sunbury police officers involved in the chase and arresting officer Trooper Ronald Zanella of state police at Stonington,
Reams, who pleaded not guilty to all the offenses, was charged Aug. 2 as an adult with multiple offenses, including aggravated assault and driving under the influence of marijuana, involving the pursuit that culminated on Chestnut Street near Front Street.
In addition to six counts of aggravated assault and DUI offense, Reams faces two felony counts of fleeing or attempting to elude police, two misdemeanor counts of recklessly endangering another person, two misdemeanor counts of accidents involving death or personal injury, and summaries of limitations of backing, careless driving, reckless driving, driving upon a sidewalk (two counts), driving under suspension, operating a vehicle without proper inspection, two counts of driving the wrong way on a one-way street, three turning violations and six stop sign violations.
Reams, who had his legs shackled and was wearing a harness belt, offered no comment to the media as he was escorted from Apfelbaum's office.
Bowers, who presented no witnesses, said he's confident the case will proceed to trial.
He said, "Kym (co-defense counsel Kymberley Best) and I look forward to helping Naheem in this case and feel strongly about taking the case to trial. Any time police fire a gun in a small town at a kid, there are serious questions to ask. We are looking closely at whether the shooting was warranted."
Bowers' request to dismiss two counts of aggravated assault because none of the officers suffered serious bodily injury was denied by Apfelbaum after District Attorney Tony Rosini argued that the charge only requires an attempt to cause serious bodily injury, which he said Reams did by intentionally ramming two police cruisers.
Rosini reserved comment after the hearing.
Zanella, who said he was pleased with the judge's ruling, testified that he interviewed police officers and civilians about the chase and shooting and also studied a report from a state police accident reconstructionist.
He said one woman who witnessed the shooting told him she had a "bird's eye view" from a balcony. Zanella said the woman told him, "The officer needed to do what was done."
Zanella also testified about damage done to Reams' 1997 Saturn and two police cruisers he allegedly intentionally rammed with his vehicle.
After reviewing 14 photographs presented by Rosini depicting the damage and shooting scene, Zanella said police obtained through a search warrant 83 vials of blood taken from Reams at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville. He said the blood revealed that Reams had marijuana in his system when the incident occurred and was driving under suspension and without a valid inspection.
The trooper said a letter written by Reams to Sunbury police after the chase and shooting expressed remorse over the incidents. In the letter, Zanella said Reams took full responsibility for his actions and claimed it was not his intention to hurt anyone.
A Sunbury police officer testified that Reams fled from him and his partner when they approached him about being parked in the 400 block of North Fourth Street with his lights activated and engine running shortly after 1 a.m. The officers were attempting to clear the block of parked vehicles for sweeper operations.
The patrolman said the officers pulled along side the vehicle to speak to the driver, who was later identified as Reams. The officers attempted to get Reams' attention to ask him to move the vehicle for the street sweeper to access the area. But according to his testimony, the defendant kept his head down and did not acknowledge the officers. The officers did not recognize Reams or his age.
The officer said Reams then suddenly fled from the scene at a high rate of speed in a reckless manner.
The patrolman said he activated his lights and siren and followed the vehicle. He said the vehicle did not stop for a stop sign at Line and Fifth streets and sped through the intersection before turning left onto Line Street. Reams continued to drive at a high rate of speed east on Line Street and ran stop signs at three intersections before going partially airborne at two locations due to the grade of the street and high rate of speed, the officer testified.
Reams then turned right and traveled the wrong way (south) on Fairmont Avenue and continued at a high rate of speed without slowing down or stopping at several intersections, the patrolman said.
The officer said he slowed down his cruiser for safety reasons when he approached Market Street. The suspect then crossed Market Street without stopping and had to swerve to avoid striking a second police cruiser, which followed Reams' car.
Reams' Saturn then proceeded across Market Street and continued south on 10th Street to Chestnut Street without stopping and began to travel the wrong way (west) on Chestnut Street while increasing his speed to more than 70 miles per hour, the officer said.
The officer said Reams continued through two controlled intersections without slowing or stopping and his car became airborne over the railroad tracks located near Third Street. The officers spotted sparks when the vehicle landed.
The witness said while Reams approached Front Street, he slowed down, which enabled the pursuing cruiser to maneuver in front of him and cut off his entrance to Front Street, which is a heavily traveled road near the downtown area.
While the cruiser pulled in front of Reams' car, Reams stopped the vehicle but struck the cruiser a few seconds later.
It was the officer's opinion that Reams intentionally rammed the cruiser with an officer inside, causing damage to its passenger side rear.
The patrolman said the second cruiser pulled along side the suspect's vehicle in an attempt to prevent Reams from exiting his car and fleeing. The witness said the officer in the passenger seat of the second cruiser began to exit his vehicle. While he was exiting, Reams sped backwards at a high rate of speed and struck the door of the cruiser, which in turn, struck the officer on his forehead and briefly pinned him between the door and door frame.
Reams's car continued backward at a high rate of speed, ascended a curb, struck a sign and hit a tree on the south side of Chestnut Street, according to the officer's testimony. The patrolman said the car then paused momentarily while the officer who was exiting the passenger side of his cruiser approached Reams' vehicle with his gun drawn. The patrolman said his partner shouted several commands for the driver to get out of his vehicle, but Reams ignored the demands.
The patrolman said the officer was standing directly in front of Reams' Saturn on the driver's side, and the defendant began revving his engine. Reams' car then suddenly shot forward coming directly at the officer at a high rate of speed. The patrolman said the defendant made no attempt to veer to avoid the officer. The witness said he believed the officer was struck by Reams' vehicle, but later learned he was not.
The witness said the officer was able to maneuver to his right and fired one shot at Reams, striking the teen near the sternum. He said the bullet went through the windshield near the inspection sticker on the driver's side of the car. The bullet, which was fired from a .45-caliber Glock pistol, was later found in the upper portion of the driver seat.
The witness said Reams failed to stop after the shot was fired and continued across Chestnut Street, mounted a curb on the north side and went onto Front Street. The vehicle then traveled at an angle across Front Street before mounting a curb on the west side and coming to a halt near a tree and partially on a sidewalk in Merle Phillips Park.
The patrolman said Reams then exited the vehicle with his hands over his head and complied with police commands before being taken into custody.
The officer said he assisted other personnel at the scene in treating Reams for his wound before he was transported to the hospital.
(The identities of the Sunbury patrolman who testified Tuesday and two other city officers he referenced in his testimony are being withheld at the request of District Attorney Tony Rosini due to previous reported threats made on their lives).