Nearly two years after the Fourth of July shooting at Coeur d’Alene’s annual fireworks display at Independence Point, the teen who was shot by police after his gun fired during a standoff with officers was sentenced to 10 years in prison Wednesday.
Tyler Rambo, now 20, sat in his wheelchair in court Wednesday with more than two rows of family seated behind him.
Rambo was charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault for the initial fight with an acquaintance and then three counts of aggravated assault of a peace officer for the subsequent standoff with police.
After his gun went off during the standoff, Rambo was shot more than 14 times by police. Both of his legs were amputated above the hip due to his injuries.
Two of those Coeur d’Alene Police officers read victim impact statements at the sentencing Wednesday. Officer Jacob Proctor, who was familiar with Rambo and his siblings from his time as a school resource officer, said the shooting occurred because of Rambo’s “blatant disregard” for public safety.
“I definitely never thought I would have to use my firearm against somebody I thought had potential and I could be a resource for,” Proctor said. “This is not what I wanted for their family.”
Despite his fear and frustration at the situation, Proctor said he is proud of how he and his co-workers responded in the incident.
“Tyler (Rambo) was given ample opportunity for this incident to end differently,” Proctor said, noting citizens in the park were scared for their lives. “Everyone in this scenario has lost something.”
Proctor said he believes Rambo is a “good person that made a bad decision,” and that his reckless behavior “demands consequences.”
Officer Jacob Brazle said Fourth of July 2019 is a day he can’t forget.
“I truly believed I was going to be shot in that moment,” Brazle said of when Rambo’s gun was pointed at him.
Brazle said he braced for impact, expecting to be shot, a statement prosecutors mentioned multiple times in trial and noted on sentencing.
“We were forced to act in a manner none of us wanted or desired,” Brazle said. “I have not and do not expect a day in my life where this incident doesn’t come into my mind.”
Lead prosecutor Rebecca Perez called the facts of the case “egregious and extreme” before asking for 20 years in prison with five fixed, meaning Rambo would serve at least five years before being eligible for parole.
The maximum sentence for Rambo’s crimes was 10 years per count with the potential for an additional 15 years to be added to one charge because the crime was found to have been committed with a deadly weapon.
While the prosecutor recognized the loss of Rambo’s legs as a punishment, she also said Rambo had every opportunity to avoid what happened that night.
Rambo’s defense attorney, Richard Baughman, argued that Rambo’s rough and abusive childhood, along with racism he experienced as a Black man in North Idaho, contributed to run-ins with the law as a teenager. He said Rambo had finally started to change after being committed to juvenile corrections.
Baughman said Rambo didn’t go to the park that day with “malice in his heart.”
At trial Baughman argued Rambo was pulled into a fight and fired his gun to get his assailants off of him. Then when confronted by police, he argued Rambo had his hands in the air in compliance before being struck with a Taser, which caused his gun to fire. Less than two seconds after the Taser strike, police fired their weapons.
“The state is trying to send him to the penitentiary for a decade or longer because of 1.5 seconds,” Baughman said.
Baughman asked for a withheld judgement, where the court never enters an order of conviction, or probation.
Then it was Rambo’s turn to address the court. He talked about his upbringing saying he made a “very poor choice” to view his uncle and his friends, who abused drugs and alcohol, as role models.
As a teen on probation, Rambo said he violated the terms of that probation because he felt threatened by the enforcement system.
“Growing up when I saw a threat all I was able to do was resist,” Rambo said.
Rambo said he grew after his time in juvenile corrections and was working to build a better life. The morning before the shooting was “one of the best days of my life,” he said, noting he spent it with family.
Rambo said he wished the incident hadn’t happened before talking about the impact the event had on those who witnessed it.
“Every Fourth of July they’re going to think about watching somebody get shot,” Rambo said.
Judge Cynthia Meyer thanked Rambo for his statement before discussing the dozens of letters supporting Rambo she received from his friends and family as well as community members. She also noted a petition started by Rambo’s mother that had more than 2,200 signatures asking he be released on probation.
Meyer said Rambo made a series of bad decisions that day, including bringing the gun to the park, throwing the first punch when confronted by his acquaintance and refusing to drop the gun.
While she “commends” Rambo for his remorse she also said it’s visible in the videos that he did not comply with commands.
She also rebuffed the idea that police acted inappropriately.
“They did not shoot first,” Meyer said. “They did not shoot because of your skin color.”
Meyer said her decision on the sentence was one she had been agonizing over since the trial three months ago and would be based on the law and the factors she is required to consider.
“There’s no question that you have been punished tremendously by the loss of your limbs,” Meyer said.
She then sentenced Rambo to 10 years in prison. Five years of that sentence are fixed, meaning Rambo must serve them before being eligible for parole.
When the sentence was announced, Rambo’s mother, Nicole Ellis, shook her head and looked down. His sister Aleeya sobbed while touching heads with her young son.
After the hearing, Ellis, who has been a fierce advocate for her son over the past two years, said she has lost hope.
“It’s over,” Ellis said, shaking her head.
With credit for time served since his arrest in September 2019, Rambo will be eligible for parole in 2024. His attorney said they plan to appeal the sentence.
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