Eas­ton man sen­tenced to 3 years pro­ba­tion

The Star Democrat - - FRONT PAGE - By SARAH DRURY sdrury@ches­pub.com

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.

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