SHERIDAN — A man who engaged in an armed standoff with police was sentenced in 4th Judicial District Court on Thursday. Judge William Edelman assigned Sean O’Leary five years of supervised probation in lieu of prison largely because the incident was primarily the product of psychological trauma from military and law enforcement service.
The charge stems from an incident on Aug. 24, 2013, when police were called to O’Leary’s residence after 10-12 gunshots were heard inside his home. O’Leary had also made suicidal statements over the telephone. When police arrived, O’Leary came out of his home three times displaying a handgun and taunting the officers to shoot him.
Instead, police negotiated with O’Leary, who ultimately surrendered his weapon and submitted to being arrested.
During the sentencing hearing, County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Darci Phillips characterized the incident as an attempted “suicide by cop.”
Defense Attorney Ryan Healy explained that immediately prior to the incident, O’Leary had been at home alone drinking and had become heavily intoxicated. He was mulling over several issues in his life, including issues of divorce and child custody. Healy also emphasized that O’Leary is a veteran search and rescue swimmer for the Navy and a former law enforcement officer who has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“All of this happened because of his undiagnosed PTSD,” Healy asserted. “It’s completely out of his character. He’s not a criminal. He’s on the other side of that.”
Phillips agreed O’Leary’s mental health status at that time was the primary contributor to the incident, with intoxication being a compounding factor.
“This scenario could have ended either way for both parties,” Phillips said, referring to the endangerment of city police officers who were not only in physical danger, but had to make judgement calls regarding how to handle O’Leary during the standoff.
“No one knows better than (O’Leary) what he put those officers through,” Healy countered. “To a person like him, this is a huge deal, a huge punishment. He’s ashamed, he’s embarrassed. That night will forever change his life.”
Phillips noted that O’Leary seemed to be on the right track to rehabilitation.
“He was proactive about seeking treatment at the (Veterans Affairs Medical Center),” she said, indicating that even since the incident, O’Leary has shown marked improvement.
Edelman agreed that O’Leary’s mental health issues that contributed to the incident are an unfortunate byproduct of his past services to society.
“There could have been a funeral,” he said, adding that the fact there wasn’t is a testament to the level of training of Sheridan’s police force.
Edelman emphasized O’Leary’s offense was one that involved a gun and substance abuse, and therefore, more serious in his mind.
“I do not believe that sentencing you to prison or time in the county jail would accomplish anything for you or society, other than that you would occupy a cot,” Edelman told O’Leary before announcing the sentence.
Edelman relayed that O’Leary would be a prime candidate for a program known as “veteran’s courts,” where offenders serve probation and partake in rehabilitation in lieu of prison sentences for crimes they committed because of service-connected PTSD. While such a court is not locally available, Edelman said the sentence he assigned is similar to what would have come out of a veteran court program.
“You are one of the rare individuals that still truly is embarrassed to be a defendant,” Edelman explained. “It’s very sad that to a number of the people occupying your chair in front of a judge being charged with a felony, it’s no big deal. To them, it’s almost a badge of honor that they can get in that much trouble. You are in the minority, and that’s why I’m going to extend to you the privilege of probation.”
From there, Edelman laid out conditions of probation, which include that O’Leary must maintain employment, avoid drugs and alcohol and participate actively in his assigned probationary program. If O’Leary violates his probation, he faces a possible four to eight years in prison.
Edelman also assigned a $3,000 fine, which will go into the state’s general education fund, $350 for the victim’s compensation fund and $85 court costs.