MacLaird, legal officials make comments to the court, receives 10-year prison sentence
August 16, 2016
Connor MacLaird, 21, was sentenced to a 10-year prison term on Monday August 15 for his attempted assault on Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin late last year; an incident that stemmed from a break-in at the Snooty Coyote Liquor Store in Tabernash on Sept. 15, 2015.
As part of his sentencing MacLaird was given credit for 316 days already served in custody in the Routt County Jail. District Court Judge Mary Hoak handed down the sentence following fairly subdued yet emotionally evocative court proceedings Monday morning.
After announcing MacLaird's sentence Judge Hoak added MacLaird would be required to complete three-years of mandatory parole. He is also eligible to serve a reduced sentence for good behavior and could potentially be paroled prior to the completion of the full 10-year prison term.
Monday evening August 15 the local District Attorney's office issued a joint press release on behalf of themselves and the Grand County Sheriff's Office. The release quotes Sheriff Schroetlin who stated, "Today was a day of closure for everyone involved in this incident. I am very appreciate of the dedication and hard work of the members of our local law enforcement, the 14th Judicial District, the 14th Judicial District Critical Incident Team, and the outpouring of support from members of our community."
District Attorney Brett Barkey stated, "Mr. MacLaird's dangerous conduct threatened the lives of members of our law enforcement community and nearly cost him his own life. Mr. MacLaird was ultimately saved by the quick, professional action of the very officers he had just attacked. The sentence appropriately holds Mr. MacLaird accountable for his actions and brings this difficult matter to a close."
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The incident that brought MacLaird before the court occurred during the early morning hours of Sept. 15, 2015 in Tabernash. On that date Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin shot MacLaird as the young man attempted to assault Schroetlin with a knife during on-scene investigations pursuant to a break-in at the Snooty Coyote Liquor Store. That morning multiple officers, led by Sheriff Schroetlin, entered MacLaird's residence in the Fireside Inn in Tabernash after finding blood outside the front and rear of Unit 2 of the motel, the unit in which MacLaird was living.
After entering the residence that morning Sheriff Schroetlin found MacLaird standing in the rear of the motel unit with an eight-inch knife raised in his hand. MacLaird advanced towards Schroetlin in the confined space of the motel unit with the knife raised in his hand. Schroetlin ordered MacLaird to drop the knife two times but after MacLaird failed to comply Schroetlin made the decision to fire at the still advancing man. MacLaird was struck multiple times and was airlifted to St. Antony Hospital for advanced life saving care.
The sentencing proceedings Monday morning started off with a brief review of procedural questions before MacLaird's legal counsel, Public Defender Chris Hamsher, addressed the Court. Hamsher began by pointing out MacLaird has no prior felony convictions, has never before served prison time and has never been convicted of even misdemeanor assault.
"This is a troubled young man," Hamsher said. He went on to detail some of the family issues MacLaird has dealt with throughout his life and the substance abuse issues he has struggled with overcoming. "It is not as if it excuses or explains all of MacLaird's behavior," Hamsher said. "Bu it paints a picture that allows the Court to mitigate his very serious conduct. Ultimately the crime here, the entire evening, is just reckless, impulsive and very obviously impaired behavior."
Hamsher continued. "It is also ridiculous to walk across the street from your own apartment and try and break into a liquor store that every knows you at; to smash a window, to yell at a witness, to grab a number of things, fall down in the street and stumble back to his apartment. It shows a young man under the influence of substances and not conscience of his deliberate conduct."
Hamsher went on to call MacLaird's actions on Sept. 15, 2015, "desperate, stupid, dangerous, harmful but not deliberate." He also added, "the Court should believe him when he says he remembers very little of the night."
Hamsher continued his plea for leniency in sentencing by highlighting his belief MacLaird did not actually intend to harm officers on the night of the incident. "It looks much more like desperation and attempting suicide by police officer than it actually appears to be an attempt to harm a police officer." Hamsher noted his belief that deadly force was appropriately used against MacLaird but added, "the question is how much did this young man really intend harm?"
Hamsher also highlighted the quick life saving response of officers on the scene that morning who immediately transitioned from enforcement to medical care. "It is truly amazing that officers responded so quickly to his bleeding. It is amazing that he didn't die."
In response Judge Hoak asked Hamsher if MacLaird was aware the officers he had been threatening just moments before had in fact saved his life. Hamsher replied, "yes."
Hamsher asked Judge Hoak to sentence MacLaird on the lower end of his potential sentencing structure, anywhere from five to 12 years. "He (MacLaird) never talked to me with an unrealistic expectation," Hamsher said. "He realized he would be punished, should be punished; but the question is, "how long?' I don't believe he deserves the worst sentence. We are asking for the Court's mercy."
After Hamsher spoke MacLaird stood and formally addressed the Court. The young man's voice was low and quiet forcing those watching the proceedings from the gallery to lean towards the bench in an attempt to hear his words. Despite the low timber MacLaird's voice was steady and without apparent tremors. He began by expressing his understanding that what he had done was wrong. "I know the actions were wrong," MacLaird said. He called his actions on Sept. 15, "evil" and "immoral". "The Sheriff did not deserve to be dragged into this and have his actions questioned by the Grand Jury."
MacLaird told Judge Hoak he hopes to move on with his life and hopes he can go on to build something positive. He requested not to be sentenced to the maximum length prison term.
After hearing from the defense side Judge Hoak asked 14th Judicial District Attorney Brett Barkey if he had any statements to make. Barkey began by pointing out the victim in the case, Sheriff Schroetlin, was present in the courtroom. "He does not wish to speak to the Court, though he has the right to do so," he said. Barkey added the owner of the Snooty Coyote Liquor Store, which was broken into on Sept. 15 prompting the entire incident, also expressed no opinion on the matter.
Barkey then addressed Public Defender Hamsher's position that MacLaird's actions on Sept. 15 were not intended to inflict harm on law enforcement personnel. Barkey cited an email MacLaird sent that morning which stated MacLaird's expectation he would soon be going to jail and his intention of, "taking out one or two."
Barkey also added that suicide by cop is, "dangers to everyone involved and dangerous to the community." He highlighted a hypothetical situation wherein an officer shooting at an assailant attempting to commit suicide by cop could accidently miss the assailant and unintentionally kill innocent bystanders. "The community is deeply affected," Barkey said. "As are the officers that have to make the choice between life and death."
Barkey was also not sympatric to the assertion that MacLaird was too intoxicated the night of Sept. 15 to be aware of his actions. "The Defendant continues to deflect his accountability. He had the wherewithal to send multiple texts that evening."
Her Honor began her statements to MacLaird with a frank assessment of his presence in the courtroom. "You are really lucky to be alive Mr. MacLaird," said Judge Hoak. Hoak called the shooting of MacLaird justified saying, "They were absolutely right to do so. It speaks volumes that they then saved your life… While law enforcement is there to serve and protect you they have no obligation to give you their lives."
Judge Hoak urged MacLaird to think seriously about the second chance he has been given in life. "Life can be spectacular," she said. "Yours is not today, but it can be. Those things you see in your future: college, a good job, a family; are attainable. I would ask you to think about that while you serve your time in prison."
Hoak discussed some of MacLaird's family and addiction problems and noted the difficulty associated with such issues but added, "you need to make good choices for yourself… There is no question that Mr. MacLaird had a tough go as a young man, but I have to tell you, a lot of people do. There are plenty of people who overcame worse."
She went on to say, "I believe you probably don't remember a lot of it (incident on Sept. 15). But do believe you acted with intention that night? I absolutely do."
Judge Hoak went on to highlight the unique nature of "suicide by cop" cases. "To commit suicide by cop is about the worst thing you can do to law enforcement," she said. "That is the last thing they want to do. That is why they tried to save you. As Schroetlin pointed that gun at you I am sure he was thinking, 'drop it, drop it'. You put him in that position. To his credit Sheriff Schroetlin has not gotten up here and said, 'you damaged me' because you absolutely did."
Hoak added she believed texts sent by MacLaird the night of the incident showed his intention. "I believe you acted with intention that night," she said. "The serious nature of this crime requires a serious sentence."
Judge Hoak sentenced MacLaird to a 10-year prison term. Afterwards MacLaird was taken into custody by Deputies from the Grand County Sheriff's Office.