A police officer accused of sawing and smashing his way through a suspect’s windscreen has claimed the sharp rise in violent crime in London is down to officers being too afraid to make arrests in case they face a backlash.
Joshua Savage, 28, allegedly attacked Leon Fontana’s Ford Fiesta with a baton before cutting the glass with a lock knife on September 16 2016.
The incident, at around 5.25pm, on Vicar’s Road in Camden, north-west London, was filmed by Mr Fontana and shared widely online at the time, provoking a public outcry.
Police mistakenly thought the driver was a potentially violent drug dealer called TJ Dixon who may have had a weapon and only a provisional licence, Southwark Crown Court heard.
Savage’s actions have been described as those of “a bully in uniform”.
But Savage claimed on Wednesday that what he did was necessary to protect himself, his colleagues and the public.
“It was as a situation where I was trying to gain (Mr Fontana’s) compliance, trying to speak to him – absolutely the situation didn’t unfold the way I would have liked,” he said.
The court heard that Savage had run a check on the vehicle by radio and learned that it had previously been used to make off from police.
He continued: “I knew I was in a police-unfriendly area, potentially with a person who could present a risk to myself or my colleagues.
“I knew the driver was potentially someone who might make off from us, so I approached the vehicle feeling very anxious.
“I explained why I stopped him. All he would say was ‘I’m not TJ Dixon’ so he was well aware of my concern that he wasn’t entitled to drive the vehicle.”
Savage said he was unable to see into the car properly because of its tinted windows.
“I believed the driver to be Mr Dixon. We knew he presented a risk to police officers and the public in that he would be prepared to drive off and cause a pursuit.”
He added: “The subject was in a vehicle, a vehicle is a machine and he was completely in control of that vehicle.”
He said that when Mr Fontana started filming him, it seemed like he wanted to repeat the whole exchange from the beginning ‘for the benefit of the community and his YouTube fans”.
“This is the problem we are seeing throughout London – police officers are more reluctant to deal with things because they are scared of what might come afterwards.
“Hence why we are seeing gang members not being disrupted and the rise in violent crime.”
Savage said Mr Fontana had repeatedly failed to comply with his requests and his commands.
“My decision making was legitimate and lawful. It was made in line with the need to protect myself and my colleagues or to prevent harm occurring to members of the public or their property,” he said.
“It was also necessary for the arrest of the subject.”
Savage claimed that “the majority” of response officers carry their own bladed tools on duty.
He said his job required a “cutting implement” for acts such as slicing seat belts off trapped car passengers in emergency situations.
Savage said his multi-tool was always clearly displayed on his belt and that he’d never tried to conceal it because it is bright yellow.
In the footage of the alleged assault, when Mr Fontana refuses to leave his vehicle, the Metropolitan Police officer can be heard saying in footage played to the jury: “Get out of the car”, and “You’re not allowed to drive it”.
Mr Fontana, who placed his keys on the dashboard, replies: “I’ve got a licence and insurance” and says he is filming for his own safety.
In his evidence, Mr Fontana said: “I thought if I left that car I would have been in danger certainly.
“I certainly wasn’t getting out to a police officer with a knife and a cosh in his hand.”
Mr Fontana denied he was being deliberately unhelpful and said he did not know if TJ Dixon was involved in crime, saying: “I keep myself to myself.”
He told the court he had to have glass removed from his eye and pay around £175 to fix the windscreen following the alleged attack.
Savage, of Hermon Hill, Wanstead, north-east London, is charged with possessing a bladed article; common assault and destroying property.
He has been placed on restricted duties by the Metropolitan Police and entered not guilty pleas in May.