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Police frustrated at probation of man who shot cop

April 19, 2002

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Police frustrated at probation of man who shot cop

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Police frustrated at probation of man who shot cop
BY AARON SANDERFORD / Lincoln Journal Star

Word that a 24-year-old man was sentenced to five years' probation for shooting a Lincoln police officer darkened the mood around police headquarters Friday.
"It's tough when you have your officers attacked and injured and laying in a hospital room or lying on the ground,"Chief Tom Casady said."That's not an easy thing for your co-workers to deal with.

"It makes you feel like your life isn't worth a whole lot."

Brian P. Walsh pleaded no contest Feb. 20 to the second-degree assault of Officer Troy Aksamit. District Court Judge PaulMerritt Jr. dismissed an earlier charge of use of a weapon Nov. 20, when he ruled the crime reckless, not intentional.

Several officers were approached and asked for their opinions Friday afternoon. Most declined to comment. Several expressed apprehension about upsetting their superiors; at least two said they feared angering a judge.

But administrators and a few officers said the idea of probation after less than a year in jail had evoked feelings of disbelief among the rank and file. Officer Mike Pratt expressed disappointment that Walsh was not held more accountable.

Casady echoed his officer's comments, saying it was hard to believe that anyone could fire a handgun four times with two officers trying to stop him without knowing that by pulling the trigger he had endangered the officers' lives.

"It certainly makes you shake your head," Casady said. "At least it wasn't pretrial diversion."

According to court transcripts of the sentencing hearing, Walsh said he was suffering from depression and was having suicidal thoughts. He had intended only to hurt himself, he said, and he thanked Aksamit for saving his life.

Aksamit had asked the court to punish Walsh to the fullest extent of the law. He could not be reached to comment Friday.

Merritt said in court Thursday that Aksamit was hit in the thigh by an unintentional ricochet. People who assault police officers on purpose should face consequences that fit their crime, he said, but Walsh's offense was different.

"This case is one of those cases that just makes me reinforce my feeling about handguns," Merritt said. "I don't believe people should have access to handguns as freely as they do in this country ... regardless of whether the purpose is to hurt oneself, somebody else can get hurt, as happened here."

Merritt said the law left him two sentencing options: prison or probation. He said he believed prison was the wrong place for Walsh, given that he had already spent 145 days in jail, about the time Merritt said he would have required.

Walsh's probation terms will keep him in Dodge County, where he lives with a sister in Fremont. He could face imprisonment if he violates any of the judge's 17 terms.

"I expect to see you doing better things for yourself once you get this going," Merritt said. "But I want you to always know that, at least for the term of this probation, that I'm in the background. I want you to remember that."

But the judge's stern words -- and sympathy for law enforcement officers, including his sister and a niece -- offered little comfort to Casady. Officers Aksamit and Chad Baehr had first contacted Walsh for allegedly violating a protection order taken out by Walsh's ex-fiancee.

"The sense of most police officers that I know is that things would be different if the same people were themselves the victim or were feeling the emotional impact of the crimes they're subsequently prosecuting or passing sentence on," he said.

To survive police work with sanity, Casady said, officers have to understand that they won't know everything about these decisions.

"All you can do is all you can do and trust that other people will do the same," he said. "Otherwise you'll become so depressed, jaded or cynical that you'll get burned out or will start looking for another job."

Reach Aaron Sanderford at 473-7225 or at asanderford@journalstar.com.

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