District Court Judge Michael Gibbons found Michael Barnhart, 37, guilty of one count of battery on a police officer Monday but suspended jail time because of Barnhart’s recent sobriety.
Sentencing was postponed at his March 18 hearing because Barnhart requested a different defense attorney due to a “lack of communication.”
Barnhart withdrew his request Monday and apologized to his attorney Laura Grant, prosecuter Laurie Trotter and to the court for postponing his case.
He credited being 62 days sober from marijuana and alcohol with making better decisions and with wanting to take responsibility for his actions.
“Addicts are wishy-washy people who make decisions out of fear,” he said. “I’m no longer blaming the world or other people for my actions. I’m ready to move on with this new life.”
Barnhart was arrested on Nov. 4, 2012, for assaulting Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Anthony Crisp at a traffic stop.
He was the front-seat passenger in a vehicle that was pulled over for going 64 mph in a 55 zone on Highway 50 in Lake Tahoe.
Barnhart exited the vehicle and approached him, Crisp said. He said that Crisp pushed him twice so he shoved back.
“It was a minor shove,” Grant said. “If the same action had happened to someone in civvies, he would never have been charged.”
Gibbons said that the behavior was inexecusable.
“The push was minor but it was a symbol of disregard for authority and for an officer who was just trying to do his job and keep the community safe,” Gibbons said.
Crisp retired recently and wrote a victim’s impact statement which said that he felt Barnhart was provoking a confrontation so that he could record it with his iPhone and post it to a website that was anti-police officer.
Trotter said that Barnhart had posted comments on his Facebook page about his own case and two other cases.
“People can say what they want because of free speech rights but they cannot break the law to have something provocative to put on a website,” Gibbons said.
Barnhart denied posting comments about cases on any website but his Facebook page.
Gibbons and Trotter were surprised at Crisp’s sudden retirement.
“Apparently he was pretty upset (by this incident) and realizes how many times his life has been on the line,” Gibbons said. “He seems to think you’d follow him and other officers home.”
Barnhart said that if the trooper had been present he would have apologized to him, too.
“I’ve been afraid or angry or a combination of both my whole life,” he said. “I’ve known joy like my children being born, but I’ve never known peace.”
Barnhart said that he has had several conversations with deputies in and out of custody and feels grateful for their help.
“I’ve talked to officers and they can see it in my eyes that my eyes have changed,” he said. “They tell me I don’t look like I’ll shoot up a post office anymore.”
Barnhart’s apology and statement to the court was accepted by Gibbons who sentenced him to probation not to exceed three years. He must write a letter of apology to Crisp, stay away from Crisp and his family and stay 10 yards away from any police officer.
Gibbons ordered that he join a 12-step program which he already has done.
Barnhart called each of those days a miracle but said that some attorneys and officers did not think the amount of days was very much.
“People who told you that you accomplished nothing by being sober for however many days you were sober at the time were wrong,” Gibbons said. “If you were sober for one day you would have accomplished something.”
Barnhart asked Gibbons and Trotter if they would sign his Alcoholics Anonymous book after telling them that he would be “a success story.”