A softspoken, gentle giant.
A chaos creator and police provoker.
Those two images of Robert Wagner emerged Tuesday in the second day of his trial on charges that he assaulted one police officer before being gang tackled by several outside Creighton University Medical Center.
And here's the interesting part: They both came from the same source — Omaha police.
Several police officers who went to the Creighton hospital — where Wagner was visiting his mortally wounded cousin on May 29 — gave competing views of Wagner's behavior before he was pounced on by police outside the hospital.
Under prosecutors' direction, testimony turned away from the hospital surveillance video of the officers punching, kicking and shocking Wagner with a Taser, behavior that resulted in the firing of two officers.
It instead focused on Wagner's behavior before, prosecutors say, he assaulted Officer Scott Zymball. If convicted, Wagner would face up to five years of probation or five years in prison.
The testimony showed just how divergent witness accounts can be, even among trained police officers.
Several officers disagreed on how much Wagner, 36, was mouthing off before the melee — and how much he was fighting during it. One even disagreed with whether Wagner's fist hit Zymball's head — the basis for the assault charge.
Officer Joshua Kelley said he saw Wagner's forearm, not his fist, hit Zymball near the side of his head. Four other officers said it was his fist.
All described near chaos at the hospital.
The lead officer at the hospital, Billie Jo Ceglar, testified that Wagner was hostile as he paced the lobby of the emergency room where he was visiting his dying cousin, Jimmy Levering.
Wagner and several family members were under the mistaken belief that police had shot and killed Levering, a gang member, outside a north Omaha club, Ceglar said.
“I asked them who would want to hurt Mr. Levering, and they said, ‘Everyone,' ” Ceglar said. “And I asked them who might have shot him, and they said, ‘The police.' ”
Ceglar testified that Wagner's behavior compounded the chaos.
“Mr. Wagner was pacing up and down that hallway,” Ceglar said. “He was angry and he was making comments about killing police, killing cops and that we were a bunch of ‘cop killers.' ”
Wagner's attorney, Glenn Shapiro, questioned how Wagner could have gotten away with repeatedly threatening officers without being charged with making terroristic threats.
Another Omaha police officer, Danielle Cloudt, testified that she has known Wagner for years.
She said she knew him as a “gentle giant” with a calm demeanor. She said she never heard Wagner make comments about killing cops that night.
Officer Ruben Soto also said he hadn't heard Wagner make any “kill the cops” comments. However, he and Officer Jodi Sautter described odd encounters with him.
The two officers said Wagner came up to them and stared at their name plates and/or their guns.
“He said, ‘I know you,' ” Soto said. “I said, ‘I don't know you at all.' Then he kind of sized me up. I moved away from the wall. If something was going to happen, I didn't want a wall behind me.”
Ceglar said Wagner became disgusted when he saw officers let Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray enter a hospital back room where the family had gathered. Gray works in gang intervention and sometimes visits hospitals after gang members are shot.
After Wagner voiced his displeasure, Ceglar and Sautter ordered him out of the hospital.
Wagner left through the emergency room doors, then turned back toward officers. Ceglar said Zymball went to arrest Wagner for failing to disperse.
At that point, several officers said they saw Wagner recoil, ball up his fist and hit Zymball in the back of the head.
“Like a big haymaker,” Officer Matt Keenan said.
Several times, Shapiro questioned how the officers saw any strike, noting that it's not on a surveillance video.
“You don't see the actual hit (on the video),” Ceglar said. “The jerking away of his arm and the swinging motion is what you see. And you see his hair fly in the air.”
Sautter went a step further. She said Wagner continued to resist. “His legs are kicking, his arms are swinging.”
Even while he was on the ground, Sautter said: “His arms continued to flail and so did his legs.”
Shapiro suggested no such struggling is apparent on the video — or any punch by Wagner. He noted that it does show Kelley pointing up at the video camera and alerting his fellow officers.
“Is it fair to say the other officers kind of scatter at that point?” Shapiro asked.
“Yeah, you could say that,” Kelley said, drawing laughs from Wagner's courtroom supporters.
Shapiro also questioned whether Sautter had any ulterior motive in her testimony — something she denies. Sautter is the sister, and one-time police partner, of Jackie Dolinsky, who was fired along with Aaron Pennington for their actions after Wagner was gang-tackled.
Both Dolinsky and Pennington are appealing their terminations. Prosecutor Jim Masteller asked Sautter if she was testifying in the hope that a Wagner conviction would help her sister get her job back.
“I don't think it has any bearing,” Sautter said.
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