By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
A man accused of attempting to stab a Crescent City police officer was remanded to prison yesterday and ordered to submit to a psychiatric evaluation.
"It appears to me, from the testimony I have heard today, that the defendant is suffering from a mental illness," said Judge William Follett. " ... and it appears to me he was making a threatening move at least toward Officer (Michelle) Whisenhunt."
Jason Robert Sanford, 25, pleaded guilty on May 14 to resisting arrest by force and violence during an apparent suicide attempt, in which Sanford slashed at his wrists and throat with a pocket knife.
At an initial sentencing hearing July 3, the county Probation Department was recommending a nine-month suspended sentence for Sanford. Chief Deputy District Attorney Mike Riese, however, argued a prison term should be considered because there was an attempted assault during the incident. Follett ordered Whisenhunt to appear and better clarify the event.
The incident occurred on April 25 when Whisenhunt was dispatched to an address on G Street in Crescent City to remove two men who were loitering on private property. Whisenhunt testified yesterday that although she recognized one of the two, she had never seen Sanford before.
"Because I didn't know him I asked him for identification," said Whisenhunt. "I ran him for warrants and he came back with one. I told him I was placing him under arrest for the warrant. It was about that time Sgt. (Tom) Burke drove up."
According to both officers, it was while Whisenhunt was attempting to handcuff Sanford that his disposition suddenly changed.
"(Sanford) was saying, It's cool. Everything's all right. I've got my meds right here,'" said Burke. "Then his entire demeanor changed. He swung around with a knife going at her. I was going to shoot I was going to fire, but I couldn't because Officer Whisenhunt was in the way."
Sanford took the stand and testified he never meant to harm the officers. Defense attorney Gene Schach argued that his client suffers from severe depression and has a history of using knives against himself, but not against others.
"If the knife wouldn't have been in that pocket it wouldn't have happened," said Sanford. "I didn't intend anything like that. My intent was to back away from her and put the knife to my own throat."
Burke, who witnessed the incident, said it appeared otherwise.
"They were in a position where he would have struck her if she hadn't moved away," said Burke. "That was my perception."
After Sanford brandished the knife, Whisenhunt and Burke said they drew their guns and attempted to keep Sanford from escaping. This began a standoff that lasted approximately 90 minutes and involved several more officers who arrived from the Del Norte County Sheriff's Department and the California Highway Patrol.
Follett said he ultimately considered the officers' testimony more credible than Sanford's when he ordered the defendant be evaluated by the California Department of Corrections.
"I am very satisfied with what occurred," said Riese. "I am very pleased Judge Follett reconsidered his decision ... because I originally walked in with a grant of probation; I walked away with a prison commitment."
Probation Officer Michael Levezow, after noting he did not author the original probation recommendation, said yesterday's testimony would affect his department's position.
"I think there would be a change in our position," said Levezow.
"And what change would that be?" asked Follett.
"I think we would be recommending a prison sentence," Levezow replied.
After the sentencing, Sanford apologized to the officers. "I am truly sorry," he said. "If I do live in this town; (when released) I won't be a threat to you or anyone."
A tentative court date of Sept. 19 was scheduled in case a determination on Sanford's suitability for probation is completed early.