Man sentenced to 4 years in prison for assaulting Dillon police officer
James Patrick Morrow, 27, who pleaded guilty in November to charges stemming from an assault on a Dillon police officer, was sentenced to four years in prison on Monday.
At about 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 15, 2017, officers with the Dillon Police Department responded to a call regarding a suspicious person walking and laying in the road in the Straight Creek Neighborhood in Dillon. Dillon officers said the man, later identified as Morrow, was stumbling in the street and answering questions incoherently, according to the arrest affidavit.
Officers said that Morrow was evasive and uncooperative while trying to get him off the street, and that he became violent after attempts to detain him. Officers tried to put handcuffs on Morrow, at which point he threw one of the officers to the ground and began punching the other. Additional officers arrived on scene shortly thereafter and successfully arrested Morrow. Morrow was inebriated on a mixture of alcohol, cocaine and LSD at the time of the incident.
The officer who was thrown to the ground suffered a fractured right humerus, the bone between the elbow and shoulder, and was transported to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center.
On Nov. 5, Morrow pleaded guilty to second-degree assault of a peace officer, a Class 4 felony, along with a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest. During Morrow’s sentencing hearing on Monday, the injured officer spoke regarding the ongoing trauma and effects of the incident.
“There’s not a day that I don’t have pain,” said the officer. “It’s not over, I still have at least five more months of physical therapy. … (Morrow) has affected my life permanently. He’s cost me my career. … It wasn’t just my job, but my passion.”
The officer noted that they would no longer be able to serve, and that ongoing pain has effectively ended their ability to take part in the recreational activities they enjoyed. The officer’s spouse also took the opportunity to speak, detailing the officer’s ongoing journey to rehabilitation — a process that included multiple surgeries, 15 months of physical therapy, daily pain management and more ancillary issues like having to sleep in a recliner for a year.
In addition to friends and family, a number of other law enforcement officers from around the county were in attendance to share their support.
“(The officer) has been such a member of our family at Dillon PD for so long,” said Chief Mark Heminghous. “It’s hard to describe the loss we have without (them) around. … We really miss (them) and we hope you’ll take into consideration that an assault on one of our officers is an assault on the police department, on the town of Dillon, on Summit County and our way of life.”
Morrow’s family was also in attendance. His mother, Rebecca, asked Judge Mark Thompson to show leniency when sentencing her son, noting his progress in substance abuse treatment over the last 15 months. She noted that Morrow had recently completed a treatment program at The Reprieve in Alabama.
A representative with The Reprieve also spoke at the hearing via telephone and said that Morrow has shown every intention of taking his addictions and treatment seriously.
Morrow also took the opportunity to speak for himself, offering an apology to the officers involved in the altercation, and providing his recollections of the events on the night of the attack.
Morrow said that the narcotic cocktail he ingested that night severely changed his “perception of reality,” and that he feared the group he was with that evening wanted to kill him. He left the house under an extreme sense of paranoia before encountering the individual who called the police, and eventually the officers themselves.
“I quickly sank back into the idea that everyone wanted to hurt me,” Morrow said. “The visual effects made the figures just shadows, and I recall incoherently answering questions. … They said I wasn’t in trouble. I didn’t believe them. I think that’s when (the officer) tried to detain me. All I could make out was a dark figure. Fight or flight. The rest is a blur until I was on the ground.
“I take full responsibility for my actions. The entire situation was created because I chose to ingest a chemical. It resulted in unacceptable actions, with serious consequences. … I hurt the people trying to protect me from myself.”
In his judgment Thompson cited Morrow’s history of substance abuse, the court’s precedent of incarcerating violent individuals — even in inebriated assaults — and voiced concerns that assaults on law enforcement officials weren’t taken seriously enough by members of the community.
“It is astonishing to this court that whenever law enforcement steps out of line it dominates news cycles,” said Thompson, who just last week presided over a hearing for Nathan Finnegan, another individual accused of assaulting a Breckenridge officer last July. “Yet over and over again members of the community assault law enforcement officers with little or no attention. This pattern of behavior needs to come to an end in this court’s view.”
Thompson sentenced Morrow to four years in prison, along with three years of parole upon release in addition to court fees. Morrow will also serve two one-year jail sentences on a misdemeanor resisting arrest charge and a traffic infraction to run concurrently with the prison sentence.
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