Whitehall, PA – A Whitehall police officer who was shot in the line of duty in 2017 asked the court to sentence his attacker to probation so he could sue the suspect for potentially ending his law enforcement career.
Whitehall Police Officer Jason Mertz and his partner responded to the residence of 48-year-old William Sturtevant at approximately 2 a.m. on Sep. 9, 2017, after Sturtevant called 911 to report that he believed someone was trying to break into his home, The Morning Call reported.
According to Sturtevant, someone had also broken into the residence the day before to steal copper pipe.
The home was vacant and up for sale, so the homeowner decided to hide inside a closet in the residence to wait for the burglars to return.
When he heard a noise downstairs, he called 911.
Officers were dispatched to a burglary in progress and were told that the homeowner was hiding in the closet.
Then, instead of remaining on the line with the 911 dispatcher, Sturtevant grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun, a .380-caliber handgun, duct tape, and a knife and went searching for the alleged burglar on his own, The Morning Call reported.
Officers rushed to the scene, and entered the house to save the homeowner. The officers were in the basement when Sturtevant busted open the door and discharged his shotgun.
Officer Mertz was struck in the leg, and immediately collapsed to the ground.
“All I thought was, ‘I can’t die. I have a wife and two kids,’” he told the court, according to The Morning Call.
Fellow officers immediately applied a tourniquet to the nine-year department veteran’s leg, and rushed him to a local hospital, The Morning Call reported at the time.
Sturtevant’s attorney argued that the homeowner heard voices before he fired his weapon, and that he didn’t think they belonged to the police because he didn’t see or hear any patrol vehicles pull up.
According to the officers, they shut off their patrol cars’ emergency equipment before they arrived at the residence, but they announced themselves loudly as they entered the home, The Morning Call reported.
Officer Mertz still has approximately 160 shotgun pellets embedded in his leg as a result of his gunshot wound, he told the court.
The injury left him in constant pain, and he has been physically unable to perform many tasks – such as climbing stairs – that would be required for him to return to the streets.
Officer Mertz said it has been a devastating realization to know that he may never be able to serve as a law enforcement officer again.
“I love helping people. I just love the job,” he told the court, according to The Morning Call. “To be there for people, to do what’s right to keep people safe.”
The wounded officer said he went to college to land a job in law enforcement, but that the shooting has left him with student loans and no career.
Sturtevant, who had no prior criminal history, was charged with a felony count of aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer, The Morning Call reported.
His attorney later asked Chief Deputy District Attorney Diane Marakovits about the possibility of a 10-year probation sentence in lieu of prison time.
Marakovits said she didn’t like the idea of Sturtevant not spending time behind bars, and that she and Officer Mertz talked about the pros and cons of the potential plea agreement for hours, The Morning Call reported.
Officer Mertz ultimately concluded that being able to file a civil claim against his attacker had the best chance of helping him to become financially whole.
“Believe me, I would want you to throw the book at him,” he told the court. “But I have student loans for a career I no longer have.”
Whitehall Police Chief Michael Marks said he also struggled with the plea deal, but that he would support whatever the wounded officer felt would benefit him and his family the most.
Judge Kelly Banach blasted Sturtevant during his sentencing hearing, and said she was hesitant to accept the plea agreement.
“We don’t live in the wild west anymore,” the judge told Sturtevant. “Once you choose to call police, you stand down."
Banach said she was “outraged” by the homeowner’s actions, and that she didn’t understand why he decided to “arm himself to the teeth” when he knew police were on their way, The Morning Call reported.
"What you did was careless, and quite frankly it feels to me like craziness,” she told Sturtevant, according to The Morning Call. “You have ruined a man’s life.”
After hearing Officer Mertz’s testimony, Banach ultimately sentenced Sturtevant to 10 years of probation.
Sturtevant works as a corporate trainer for a cookware firm, according to The Morning Call.