In the police academy, Patrolman Mark Weekes was taught that people attack officers for two reasons: to get away or to kill them.
In 2015, when Weekes didn't hear his attacker run away after delivering the first of 28 blows to the officer's head, Weekes said he thought he was going to die.
"I knew something was coming," the patrolman said. "Three or four minutes later, I came to and I really thought I was dreaming."
About 20 Schenectady County Community College students listened intently Wednesday as Weekes, 31, give his first public presentation about the brutal attack and why he stayed on the force. The traffic patrolman was the keynote speaker at SCCC's criminal justice career fair.
"Listen, this is what police officers are dealing with. It's not what you see on TV or on the news," Weekes said. "It's not that glorious."
About 2 a.m. Aug. 1, 2015, Weekes was patrolling downtown Schenectady in an unmarked police car. He spotted a man standing in the road, drunkenly singing into a traffic cone.
Weekes stopped, rolled his window down and called out to the man, who would be later identified as James Hilton.
"I told him, 'Put the cone down. Put the cone back, wherever you found it,'" Weekes recalled.
The offense was minor but the patrolman couldn't just drive by.
"No matter how small the incident, you have to at least acknowledge it,' he said. Stealing a traffic cone from a construction site while dozens of people left bustling downtown bars on foot was a safety hazard, he said.
Hilton refused to put the cone down and reached toward the car door. A friend stepped in and said they would put the cone back on their way home.
Weekes drove away.
He refueled his car and turned back down State Street — only to find Hilton, now alone, in the road with the traffic cone.
Weekes stopped and called into dispatch.
"Rule No. 1 is you always call into dispatch when you get out of the car, in case something goes wrong," Weekes told the students. Dispatchers said a back-up car was en route. The officer approached Hilton and asked him where he was headed.
"He started giving me a hard time," Weekes said. "I told him I'd stopped him because of the cone: 'I asked you to put it down once. You didn't listen.'"
Hilton refused to show Weekes his ID and the officer threatened to detain him.
Hilton crossed his arms.
"Now we had a situation," Weekes said. "I grabbed his wrist and, as I put his hand behind his back, he pulled his hand forward again and locked up." The officer tried again to apply the handcuff, this time putting a hand on Hilton's shoulder to push him to the ground.
"That's the last memory I have," Weekes said. "The next thing I remember is picking my head off the sidewalk, bleeding."
Prosecutors said Hilton, a former mixed martial arts fighter, locked Weekes in a sleeper hold and rhythmically punched his head 28 times.
Hilton, 33, was convicted on multiple charges, including felony assault on a police officer, and sentenced on Dec. 2 to 13 years in state prison.
"He went zero to 150 just like that," Weekes said. The patrolman suffered a fractured skull, broken finger and bruised neck.
When he regained consciousness, Weekes knew he was in trouble and dragged himself to his car to call for help.
He couldn't find his handheld radio, which was on his belt and still turned on, so he screamed into the vehicle radio. Loud feedback overtook his breathless pleas for help and dispatchers sent scores of officers to the scene.
Weekes could only describe his attacker's faded black T-shirt to his fellow officers.
"I'd been a police officer for years at that point," Weekes said. "I would go up to witnesses all the time and go, 'How do you not know what the perp looked like? He was right in front of you.' Now I totally understand."
Weekes told the SCCC students the assault left him with short-term memory loss, migraines and deeper inhibitions about approaching civilians.
It also gave him a fresh perspective on policing.
"There are things I could have done differently that you're trained to do, that I didn't do," Weekes said. "There was no reason for me to put my hands on him while I was alone."
It was a wake-up call for the entire department not to cut corners or get too comfortable, he said.
The attack didn't changed his career choice.
"When you hear those sirens coming, when all these guys are coming and they're on your side, it's a totally different feeling," Weekes said. "They're coming for you. They've got your back."
Victoria Ferranti, a 19-year-old criminal justice major from Burnt Hills, said Weekes' experience doesn't change her goal of becoming a police officer.
"It shows how passionate he is about the job. He still loves it. He still wants to do it. I think it was eye-opening for a lot of people who want to go into (law enforcement) that this is what really happens," she said. "Stuff does go wrong."
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