A former Highway Patrol trooper who repeatedly kicked a suspect after a chase involving a dump truck was sentenced to serve time in a halfway house, avoiding what could have been 18 months behind bars.
Former Lance Cpl. John B. Sawyer was sentenced to three years of probation Tuesday, with the provision that he serve one year and one day in a halfway house.
The sentence by Chief U.S. District Judge David C. Norton was crafted partially because of the stressful duration of the 30-mile chase on Interstate 95, and because Sawyer, as a former member of law enforcement, would be a target in federal prison.
Also, his doctor and attorney argued Sawyer had been overcome by a bout with his diabetes, causing toxic levels of chemicals to alter his personality.
"It's not a defense," said his attorney, John O'Leary, inside the federal courthouse in Charleston. But "it is a mitigating factor," he said.
The attack became part of a highly publicized examination in South Carolina of abuse of civilians by various state troopers. Sawyer's was the last of three cases in which troopers were charged with civil rights violations in acts recorded on dashboard cameras.
In court Tuesday, Sawyer repeatedly choked back tears as he apologized to his family, law enforcement and also to the man he kicked, dump truck driver Sergio Caridi of New York.
"There was no way I would allow myself not to try to help," Sawyer said of his decision to join the chase that cost him his job.
"Do I think my diabetes played a part? Most definitely," he also said.
In May 2006, Sawyer, 34, of Latta, took a self-injection of his diabetes medicine. He was bleeding and started to head home to change his shirt when a radio call came in of a speeding dump truck heading south on I-95. Sawyer joined the chase.
What evolved was a bizarre and violent attempt to stop the truck in which authorities blew out six of the truck's 12 tires and fired at least 48 pistol and shotgun rounds trying to disable the vehicle. Speeds topped 90 mph. Caridi also allegedly attempted to strike Sawyer's vehicle.
When the pursuit ended in Sumter County, video shows Sawyer striking and kicking Caridi several times after he'd already been hit with a stun gun, and while he was being restrained by officers.
Sawyer resigned from the Highway Patrol in August 2006 and pleaded guilty in January to violating Caridi's civil rights. State charges still are pending against Caridi, including assault and battery with intent to kill, failure to stop for a blue light and resisting arrest.
Sawyer said he wished the day had gone differently. "I wish the good Lord had sent me to another wreck 20 miles away," he said.
Despite requests for leniency, Norton said time in a halfway house was warranted, given the nature of the abuse that officers on the scene said was out of proportion. Norton called what was recorded on the video 'pretty egregious conduct.'
"We totally respect Judge Norton's decision on this sentence," Assistant U.S. Attorney Alston Badger said afterward.
Based on good behavior, Sawyer could be released after completing 85 percent of his term.