(AP) — A northcentral Idaho man has been sentenced to just six months behind bars — the maximum — for an assault on a state trooper that resulted in the trooper shooting another man who was attacking him.
Ricardo Daniel Rodriguez was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene in a case that could have landed him in jail for much longer if the attack hadn’t happened on a reservation.
The Lewiston Tribune reports Rodriguez was charged only with a misdemeanor because he was arrested on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation, which is governed by federal law. Officer assault charges apply only to federal officers, and there was no felony statute in federal court that applied to his case.
Had the offense occurred outside reservation borders, Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan said Rodriguez would have faced felony charges and a more severe prison sentence. She recommended the six-month maximum sentence.
“Given the serious nature of the offense, that it was important the community see that the maximum sentence was appropriate,” Whelan said.
Authorities say 39-year-old Rodriguez and 50-year-old Randall Vernon Ellenwood got out of their car and beat Trooper Jeffory Talbott during a traffic stop for drunken driving in May 2009.
According to official reports, Ellenwood and Rodriguez were “seriously physically battering” Talbott when the officer fired his weapon, hitting Ellenwood, who died at the scene.
In court, Rodriguez acknowledged putting Talbott in a wrestling hold, but said he should have been found not guilty on grounds the trooper had no jurisdiction on Nez Perce tribal land.
Idaho authorities can arrest American Indians on highways where they cross reservation land without violating a tribe’s sovereignty, according to a 2009 Idaho Court of Appeals opinion.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mikel Williams told Rodriguez during the sentencing hearing that the issue was not one of tribal sovereignty.
The judge also ordered Rodriguez to pay about $4,000 in restitution for Talbott’s medical bills. Talbott spent several months off the job recovering from injuries from the beating. He was cleared of wrongdoing this year by the U.S. attorney’s office.
Rodriguez’s attorney, Bryan P. Whitaker of Spokane, could not be reached on Tuesday by The Associated Press.