The judge who found Craig Burton guilty of three counts of assault for his role in an officer-involved shooting said Burton’s mandatory 10-year prison sentence will serve no purpose and is a “waste of taxpayer resources.”
Police responded to Burton’s home on North Ash Street last May after receiving reports that Burton was suicidal and had a gun. Burton fired his gun multiple times and was shot once by police after appearing in the alley behind his home and refusing to drop his gun.
Burton’s attorney, John Stine, argued during trial that Burton was firing in the air to try to commit “suicide by cop.” He also argued that Burton was having a bad reaction to a new medication, which was making him suicidal.
On Thursday Stine asked Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael Price to sentence Burton to the eight months he’s already served and to reduce the mandatory firearms enhancement from 36 months per charge to two months per charge.
Price said he had researched the issue but concluded he had no choice but to impose the mandatory minimum sentence of 15 months and a total of nine years for the three weapons enhancements.
“As judges we’re sworn to follow the law, not create the law,” Price said. “I am incredibly frustrated and incredibly saddened at what is happening here.”
Price said he doesn’t believe Burton needs rehabilitation or is a danger to the community. Instead Burton is a man with no criminal record who served his country honorably as a combat medic and is a father to two young children, Price said. Burton was working at the Spokane Veteran’s Administration Hospital at the time of the incident and the VA has said Burton is welcome to come back and even offered him a promotion, Price said.
“That speaks volumes to me,” he said. “I think counsel will agree with me that this is really a heartbreaking case.”
Before he was sentenced Burton addressed the court.
“I know what I did was wrong,” he said. “I’m embarrassed. I wish I was more proactive in my medical treatment. I knew something was wrong.”
Burton apologized to the officer who shot him, saying he knows the shooting caused psychological trauma to the officer.
“Nobody was supposed to get hurt,” he said. “I’m apologetic to all the officers involved that night. It shouldn’t have happened.”
Burton asked Price for leniency and also requested that he be allowed to remain free while Stine appeals his conviction.
“I do believe I deserve to be punished,” he said. “That being said, I think I’ve been punished enough.”
Price denied Burton’s request to remain free during his appeal, ordering him to report to prison no later than noon on March 9.
“I think you’re a good person,” Price said. “I wish you the best of luck.”
Burton’s girlfriend Becca Libby said she understood that the judge had to rule the way he did, but she’s still frustrated.
“I just wish there was a more flexible way,” she said. “Sometimes there are exceptions to the rule that you have to look at.”
Burton said he knew he would be sentenced to prison time but was devastated to be ordered to prison next week. He was released from jail after his guilty verdict on Feb. 11.
“I didn’t expect a perfect outcome, but I didn’t expect this outcome,” he said. “He wants me to fight it behind bars.”
“Which we will,” Libby said.
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