Matt Russell, director of player personnel for the Denver Broncos, was sentenced to serve seven months in jail for his involvement in a July 2013 driving-under-the-influence crash that seriously injured a Breckenridge police officer.
Russell, 40, pleaded guilty Friday, May 23, in Summit County court to one count each of DUI, careless driving resulting in bodily injury and driving with an open container. A fourth charge of failure to provide valid proof of insurance was dropped.
Summit County Judge Edward Casias handed down the sentence during Friday’s hearing and also ordered Russell to serve two years of supervised probation, undergo substance abuse testing, therapy, perform 120 hours of public service and pay a still-to-be-determined amount in fines, fees and victim restitution. Russell is work-release eligible and may make arrangements to serve out his jail sentence in his home county of Arapahoe, according to Casias’ order.
The court will make a determination about restitution and compensable losses within the next 60 days.
Before sentencing, a tearful Russell told the court he accepted responsibility for his actions, and also offered an apology to Breckenridge police officer Andrew Maxwell — the victim in the case — his wife, family, the town of Breckenridge and the Breckenridge Police Department. Russell, who attended the University of Colorado, said he was raised in a family environment where he was taught to be part of the solution, not the problem.
“That night I was the problem when I made the decision to (drink and) drive,” Russell said. “I knew I had a (drinking) problem, my wife knew I had a problem. I hid it from my parents, or at least I tried to, and the biggest problem was I was ashamed to admit it.
“I wish that officer Maxwell was here, as awkward and ashamed as I am, but I hope I get the opportunity to apologize to him for what I did that night.”
In arguing for the maximum penalty, deputy district attorney John Franks said Maxwell opted not to attend Friday’s hearing because he was dissatisfied with the charges the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office decided to pursue against Russell. Franks, who relayed a message on Maxwell’s behalf, said the Breckenridge police officer believed there was enough evidence to seek a felony charge of vehicular assault causing serious bodily injury.
“Officer Maxwell is categorically against this deal,” Franks said. “I have a great deal of respect for officer Maxwell, but he feels the system, particularly the people, have let him down.”
After the hearing, District Attorney Bruce Brown said there was not enough evidence to support Maxwell’s allegations and did not think his office could prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the injuries Maxwell sustained would be considered by the court as “serious.”
After the July 2013 crash, Maxwell was transported to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center with neck and leg injuries. During Friday’s hearing, Franks said Maxwell likely will never fully recover from his injuries, which included a fractured leg that will require at least two rounds of knee surgery. There also are questions about whether he will be able to return to active patrol duty, Franks said.
Because Maxwell’s injuries were life changing, Franks asked the court to impose the maximum penalty in the case. Russell was facing 10 days to one year in jail on the charges of DUI and careless driving causing bodily injury.
“Being a young man, officer Maxwell chose a career to serve the public, particularly the Breckenridge community, and he was doing just that when he sustained these injuries,” Franks said. “Officer Maxwell saw the crash coming and literally put himself between the defendant and the community. In all likelihood, he will spend the rest of his life in pain.”
Franks reminded the court that minutes before the crash in Breckenridge, Russell also was involved in another crash in Frisco, but decided to continue driving. He also pointed to police reports, which stated Russell admitted to police officers that he was texting and driving at the time of the crash. The report stated Russell had a .241 blood-alcohol content at the time of the crash.
Several people testified on Russell’s behalf, including his wife, Sonja, and coworkers Matt Thewes, director of team administration for the Broncos, and Mac Freeman, the club’s senior vice president of business development. All cited strides Russell has made since the crash to tackle his addiction to alcohol and to become a better husband, father and colleague.
Those efforts included checking himself into a 30-day inpatient substance abuse program, as well as Level 2 education and one-on-one substance abuse therapy, of which Russell has completed about 40 hours since his arrest.
Russell’s attorney, Harvey Steinberg of Denver, also told the court the Broncos have implemented a rigorous substance abuse testing program since his return to duty in September 2013. Steinberg said the club has tested Russell more than 100 times and he hasn’t failed once.
“I know this is a very serious event, but in a weird way this should be a celebration because of the life changes he’s made,” Steinberg said in his argument for in-home detention. “He’s done all of these things to make a bad, terrible and inexcusable situation better.
“I’m hoping the court will recognize what he did, but also recognize what’s he’s done since the accident because although this is a terrible snapshot, it doesn’t capture the kind of person he truly is.”
Casias admitted he struggled with the appropriate sentence, saying right from the outset of the case he thought only the maximum would be proper. He said that although many people go through the motions to appear like they are trying to improve their lives, he thought Russell’s efforts were genuine.
But Casias also said he wished Maxwell had attended the hearing, not so Russell would have the opportunity to apologize, but so Russell could see for himself the extent of the injuries he caused. Maxwell, like Russell, was a college athlete, Casias said.
“You two have a lot of things in common,” Casias said in handing down the seven-year sentence. “Luckily you’re both big guys, you’re both athletes, because given the violence of the collision, you’re lucky you didn’t kill him, or yourself.
“I wish he (Maxwell) was here so you could see how he walks. It’s not the gate of an athlete, but of a severely injured man.”