Published DateLACONIA — The man who punched a Laconia police officer in the face and broke his nose during a DWI stop was sentenced yesterday to serve 1 1/2 to 5 years in the New Hampshire State Prison after pleading guilty in Belknap County Superior Court.
Stephen Johnstone, 23, of 24 Fair St. pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree assault and one count of resisting arrest. He was also sentenced to 2 to 5 years for resisting arrest — all suspended.
Officer Michael Armstrong, who underwent surgery to repair his nose and eye socket, told Johnstone that he didn't take the assault personally. "What you did was assault a police officer," he said. "Your actions show no regard for public safety."
"We are not your punching bag for you to take out your aggression...," Armstrong told him. "But we will continue to do our jobs."
Speaking on behalf on Johnstone were his father, mother, his AA sponsor, and one of his middle school teachers. They, along with his lawyer John Bresaw, pleaded with Judge James O'Neill to sentence Johnstone to 12 months in the Belknap County House of Corrections and not send him to the New Hampshire State Prison.
"I'm asking you not to let society fail him as I failed him as a mother," said Valerie Johnstone who was weeping openly and barely able to speak.
She apologized to Armstrong and told him she has a nephew in law enforcement and couldn't "imagine the call received by Mrs. Armstrong saying her husband was hurt."
All said Johnstone was developmentally disabled, had learning disabilities, and had struggled in school. They said he was bullied by his peers in school mostly because of his sister who was born with a chromosome disorder and of whom he is very protective.
All said Johnstone's actions were inexcusable and agreed he should be punished, but rehabilitated through the programs offered at the county jail.
Karen Muthersbaugh, his middle school special education teacher, said she has stayed in touch with Johnstone and his family since he was in her middle school class. She said he is very protective of those who accept him.
"He's always trying to defend someone and that may have come into play here," she said.
Affidavits filed with the court by police said Johnstone tried to interfere with Armstrong when the officer went to place his friend and fellow passenger in the car Abdul Kamara into protective custody. Kamara is serving a 1 1/2 to 4 years sentence in the N.H. State Prison for his role in the altercation.
The two struggled and when Armstrong went to take him to the ground, Johnstone punched him in the face. Johnstone continued to struggle until he was zapped by a Taser by another officer.
Murthersburgh said Johnstone has "a lot of heart and is super kind. She also said he is a "hero to his sister."
After hearing from both sides, O'Neill recessed court for about five minutes while he went in chambers to contemplate his decision.
He told Johnstone that while the developmental disorders and the bullying could be considered mitigating factors, he agreed with the 1 1/2 to 5 years sentence requested by the state because ultimately he "assaulted and severely injured a Laconia Police Officer who was doing the job he was sworn to do."