ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, Md. - The murder trial of a New Jersey police officer accused of shooting a Maryland man last year begins this week, reports CBS Baltimore.
Defense attorneys representing Police Detective Joseph Walker, 41, said in opening arguments Monday that the off-duty officer fatally shot 36-year-old Joseph Harvey Jr. in self defense after a road rage incident in June 2013, according to the station. Walker is charged with first-degree murder.
Walker's lawyers argue their client was protecting his family.
The station reports Walker was driving back to New Jersey from Maryland when his family minivan merged onto Highway Route 3 and cut off Harvey's car. Both sides agree that the victim - whose friends were passengers in the vehicle - started screaming at Walker as they drove, even using a racial epithet.
Both cars reportedly swerved at each other before pulling onto the side of a highway on-ramp. At that point, Walker allegedly pulled out a gun and shot Harvey three times.
"He can say all he wants to that he was worried about his wife and children," Jennie Jones, a friend of the victim, told CBS Baltimore last year. "If he was that worried about his wife and children, he shouldn't have pulled off the road."
Walker's friends and colleagues have rallied around him since the incident. Some of his fellow police officers helped raised $100,000 for his defense in the case, according to the station.
"It's been really hurtful for us to see the way [Walker] has been depicted as this aggressive, bullying-type thug cop when he's anything but that. He's a devoted family man that was protecting his family and [himself]," said William Caicedo of New Jersey Police Local 232.
CBS Baltimore reports some law enforcement groups are worried a guilty verdict in the case will have a nationwide impact. Joseph Occhipinti, of the National Police Defense Foundation, said most officers are concerned.
"'If I take police action, could I be charged for first-degree murder?' That has a chilling effect and may be a deterrent on police officers taking appropriate police action," Occhipinti told the station.
At trial, the judge put a gag order on the attorneys in the case.
Walker is currently free on $1 million bail and has been suspended without pay from his police job, according to CBS Baltimore. If convicted of first-degree murder, he faces the possibility of life in prison.