Amonette gets 29 years for assaulting Rifle police officer
Post Independent Contributor
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Phillip Amonette claims that he didn’t intend to harm Rifle police officer Garrett Duncan when he shot him in the chest during a domestic disturbance call in Rifle in late 2010, and he says he has no recollection of the incident.
Despite Amonette’s plea for mercy, Garfield District Judge James Boyd on Tuesday sentenced the 55-year-old to 29 years in prison for his crime.
Boyd’s sentence sits at the higher end of the mandatory 10 to 32 years that sentencing guidelines require for first-degree assault on a police officer.
Amonette was convicted of that charge July 30 after a two-week jury trial, but acquitted of the more serious offense of attempted first-degree murder.
On Tuesday, Boyd addressed a hearing room packed with the defendant’s tearful friends and family, as well as scores of stone-faced law enforcement officials from throughout Garfield County.
He told Amonette that he created a “real concern in terms of community safety,” when he fired on police officers after they responded to a 911 domestic dispute call placed by his girlfriend’s daughter on the evening of Oct. 22, 2010.
In a moment that electrified the courtroom, the prosecution played an audio recording of the 2010 shooting captured by officers responding to the U-Haul outlet on Whiteriver Avenue in Rifle, where Amonette lived at the time with his girlfriend, Debra Melendrez.
In the recording, officers can be heard introducing themselves to Amonette after arriving at the scene. Amonette then yelled “No! No!” before apparently producing the gun, a .357 magnum revolver.
The officers urged Amonette repeatedly to drop the gun, then several shots rang out.
Testimony during the two-week trial established that Amonette fired first and Ryan returned fire, hitting Amonette three times in the back and once in the chest.
Because Amonette’s bullet struck the bulletproof vest that Duncan was wearing and its impact was blunted by Duncan’s cell phone, the officer was left with minor injuries.
“I do ask for mercy from the court, so that I might get out in time to spend the last years of my life in freedom,” Amonette read from a prepared statement just before the sentencing. He said ongoing physical ailments have plagued him since the shooting, and he doesn’t expect to live a long life.
Amonette spent nearly two months in a coma following the incident, and has spent much of the ensuing two years in rehabilitation.
Officer Ryan also testified before the court, and urged the judge to impose the maximum sentence possible. Anything less, he said, “would be a slap in the face of society in general as well as law enforcement of Garfield County.”
“I was there that night with officer Duncan, and as far as I’m concerned he intended to kill,” Ryan said of Amonette’s actions.
Ryan’s statement was countered by brief remarks from Amonette’s daughter, Jeanelle Amonette. She argued that while her father had made “a terrible mistake,” that night, she said “one mistake should not mean that he should have to spend what will essentially be the rest of his life in prison.”
Questions of Amonette’s intent dominated statements by both public defender Matthew Morriss, who represented Amonette, and Deputy District Attorney Jeff Cheney of the prosecution.
Morriss cited what he called “conflicting testimony” about the way Amonette drew his weapon and whether he was attempting to flee when the shooting occurred, and argued that Amonette didn’t deserve a long prison term.
But Judge Boyd ultimately seemed more swayed by Cheney’s claims about the larger impact of Amonette’s actions on law enforcement and public safety.
“The people of this district need to know that the police will come when 911 is called,” Cheney said during the hearing. He said the officers involved also deserved the assurance that those who assault a police officer will be harshly punished.
Just before announcing the sentence, Boyd told Amonette that his crime increases the likelihood that officers will fire their weapons prematurely at the scene of an incident.
“The lesson that you’ve given to these officers was that they waited too long” to fire, he said. “That means that the short moment of time that they have to make a decision will get even shorter.”
Boyd granted Amonette nearly two years of time served for the period he spent in the hospital under police supervision recovering from his injuries, bringing his sentence closer to 27 years.
Officer Duncan, the officer shot in the incident, didn’t testify during the hearing. Standing in the courthouse hallway afterward, he said he was reassured by Judge Boyd’s lengthy sentence.
“I feel better,” Duncan said. “We weren’t 100 percent happy with some of the decisions that the jury made, but I just feel better.”
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