More than a year after she was fired from her job as a corrections officer by the Portage County Sheriff's Office, Connie Sutton will be returning to the Portage County jail as an inmate.
On Tuesday, Portage County Common Pleas Judge Laurie Pittman ordered Sutton, 50, of Akron, to serve 100 days in the jail where she worked since 2006. Sutton also received five years of probation, was fined $350 and court costs and ordered to get a mental health evaluation.
Portage County Sheriff David Doak fired Sutton two days after a June 13, 2012, confrontation with inmate Holly N. Anderson that left the 24-year-old Ravenna Township woman bloodied, bitten and gasping for breath after two blasts from a can of pepper spray administered by Sutton. The entire scene played out on jail surveillance cameras, and a tape of the incident was viewed numerous times in court during a three-day trial that concluded July 12 with a jury finding Sutton guilty of felonious assault, a second-degree felony that carries a presumption of two to eight years in prison.
Pittman ruled that Sutton overcame the presumption of prison thanks to her lack of a criminal record, the unlikelihood that she would commit another offense, her "community, social and religious involvement" and her "outstanding record as a corrections officer."
Pittman told Sutton she believed the assault on Anderson was a "one-time incident."
"To me it was clear that you lost control," Pittman said, while adding that jurors "liked" Sutton and after the verdict asked Pittman not to send the divorced mother of two to prison.
For her part, Sutton apologized and said the assault was "not my character."
"Whatever sentence you give me, I will accept," Sutton told Pittman, choking back tears. "My family needs me. I'm not going to hurt anybody. I will be a productive citizen."
Assistant Portage County Prosecutor Eugene Muldowney recommended a four-year prison term, citing Sutton's "lack of remorse or understanding" of her crime. Sutton, he said, was "in a position of trust and power within the jail" -- a difficult job, he allowed.
"You're not watching a bunch of Girl Scouts every day," he told Pittman, while adding that Anderson was in "complete retreat" from Sutton when she was assaulted.
Defense attorney Robert Meeker told Pittman he still believes his client was in fear for her life when, according to his account of the incident, Anderson attacked Sutton and pulled the corrections officer with her to the ground following a streak of verbal abuse that included a racial slur. Anderson is white and Sutton is black.
Meeker said he was "ethically obligated" to believe Sutton when she said she was "in danger of her death or serious bodily harm."
"I'm quite sure (Sutton) was kicked as she got up" off Anderson, he said, repeating a claim he made during the trial, though jurors rejected Sutton's self-defense claim.
He also told Pittman he was fearful for Sutton's safety if she were sent to prison, and if granted probation would "follow the law and continue to live a moral, law-abiding life."
Anderson, who did not appear in court for Sutton's sentencing, testified at the trial that she thought she was going to die during Sutton's assault on her. While only briefly hospitalized following the assault, she testified she still has nightmares, headaches, post-traumatic stress and a scar on her arm where Sutton bit her.
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Facebook: Dave O'Brien, Record-Courier