Easton man sentenced to 3 years probation
EASTON — An Easton man was sentenced to three years supervised probation on Friday, Oct. 28, in Talbot County Circuit Court for reckless endangerment and false imprisonment.
He was also sentenced to five years in prison with all but one day suspended, which he has already served.
Clifton West, 38, was arrested on May 11, 2014, for allegedly point- ing a handgun at his wife. His wife was present at the trial and invoked her marital privilege not to testify against him.
Talbot County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Kehoe said he mainly wanted West to take part in probation in order to continue getting therapy for his post-traumatic stress disorder. During his probation he will also not be allowed to own or operate any dangerous weapons.
His bench trial took place in September 2016.
West was originally charged with first-degree assault, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, false imprisonment, possession of firearm during commission of a felony and possession of a firearm in commission of a violent crime.
According to testimony from officer Anthony Reyes of the Easton Police Department, he responded to the home of West and his wife around 8 p.m. on the evening of the incident due to a call about a domestic disturbance.
Reyes said he made contact with West when he arrived at the house and recognized him from a few previous, friendly encounters. He also said he met with West’s wife and their three, young children.
West’s behavior was described by Reyes as being irrational and excited and that he also saw blood on West’s shorts. He also said West was acting like nothing had happened.
“I then checked West’s hands and
noticed that he had a laceration on his left palm and blood on his hands,” Reyes said. “He also appeared to be intoxicated.”
When another officer arrived, Reyes said West closed the door on him and insisted that no one needed to come inside. Eventually, West allowed the police into the home, but Reyes said he was defensive about letting the officers speak with his children.
“He showed me around the house and he said he cut his hand while washing the dishes,” Reyes said. “But I noticed there was a still a pile of dirty dishes in the sink.”
West then reportedly took Reyes upstairs to examine his bedroom. In West’s closet, Reyes said he found two handguns and also a few rifles. He said West said nothing happened at the house and that his wife seemed to want to remain quiet and not be involved in the situation.
“She seemed shocked and the kids looked scared,” Reyes said.
Reyes then called paramedics to address the laceration on West’s hand, reported the incident to his sergeant and left the scene.
Later that evening, around 10 p.m., Reyes said he was sent to the home again for another domestic disturbance call. When he arrived back at West’s home, he made contact with West’s wife and was informed that West was no longer home.
Reyes reported that West’s wife seemed calm but not distressed. After securing the area, he searched the house and found in West’s wife’s bedroom a handgun on the floor that appeared to have blood on it. He also said the bedrooms seemed to be disorderly, that some guns were still in West’s closet and a few of their landline phones were broken.
A few other officers showed up, including officer Frank Creegan of the Easton Police Department, who collected evidence and took pictures of the scene. Creegan examined the bloody gun in the bedroom and Reyes said Creegan told him that the gun had been loaded.
“When I informed Mrs. West about what Creegan said, she burst into tears and just started crying,” Reyes said.
Creegan was then called to testify and said he arrived at the scene shortly after 10 p. m. and saw the gun on the floor and agreed to seeing blood on the gun on the floor. He also said he found two handgun boxes in West’s closet, one of which was empty.
After collecting evidence, Creegan said he returned outside and heard another officer yell that they had seen West nearby. Creegan followed the other officers, who made a traffic stop and found West alone in the vehicle.
A video from the dashboard camera of one of the police cars at the traffic stop was presented during the trial. During the video, West was arrested and placed in the cop car, while asking the officers repeatedly why he was being arrested.
When told he was being arrested because the officers were told he pointed a gun at his wife, West said, “Yeah, I pointed a gun at her; I should have killed her.”
Later in the recording, he recanted his original statement and asked, “Why would I point a gun at my wife?”
Defense Attorney Drew Cochran made a motion to dismiss all the charges against West on the basis that no one had any idea of how the gun got on the floor and West making contradictory statements in the police car.
“There is no corroboration as to what the state alleges,” Cochran said. “There is no video of what happened, no injuries on the victim, no shell casings or bullet holes and we don’t have the testimony of his wife.”
Deputy State’s Attorney Ellen Grunden said that a loaded gun being left on the floor in a house with three small children was at least enough for reckless endangerment. Kehoe denied the defense’s request for dismissal.
West was then called to testify on his own behalf.
According to West, there was a knife stuck in the garbage disposal of the sink, which is what he cut his hand on. He also said, before the police arrived, he had been drinking some wine and was working on some cleaning and organizing around the house.
West said he was helping his wife move into the second bedroom and they were sleeping in different bedrooms because he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, which caused him to sometimes have fits in his sleep.
“I was moving something into my wife’s room and when I got to her room, I noticed she had used a small ottoman to try and block the door,” West said. “She said she was afraid of me, so I went to the closet, got one of the guns and went back in, gave it to her and told her to use it if she was scared of me.”
West said he believed his wife was just mad at him because she didn’t like it when he drank.
West said, after the first police encounter, that he suddenly remembered he needed something from the store and left the house. By the time he returned, he saw police cars outside of his home. He said they were looking in his direction and he knew they were coming after him, so he turned his car around and went to park a few streets away.
“There would be no reason to flee from the cops if nothing was wrong,” Grunden said. “It’s not a normal response to see cops at your house where your wife and children are and turn the other way.”
West testified that he was right handed and Cochran said that due to his wound being on his left hand it wouldn’t make sense for blood to be on the gun.
Kehoe found West guilty of reckless endangerment and false imprisonment but acquitted West of all other charges.