Jessup man sentenced for attacking deputy, escaping in Howard County

Veteran officer suffered serious injuries in incident last summer

May 17, 2010|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

A 21-year-old Jessup man who attacked a Howard County sheriff's deputy while in custody and then eluded authorities for a week was sentenced Monday to 25 years in prison.

Devin Champagne pleaded guilty in Howard County Circuit Court to first-degree assault and escape for what prosecutors called "a vicious and heinous" attack last August that left Deputy Donald Chase unable to work.

The veteran officer, who sustained what were described as "life-threatening" injuries, was returning Champagne to the Howard County jail Aug. 13 after he had been convicted of theft.

According to prosecutors, Champagne maneuvered his handcuffs from behind his back and used them to choke Chase "profusely" from the back seat of the vehicle. Champagne tried unsuccessfully to wrestle Chase's gun out of his holster before kicking the officer in the face and escaping.

Assistant State's Attorney David Lank said that Champagne threatened Chase, repeatedly saying, "I'm going to kill you [expletive]" and that Chase said he felt "the life being squeezed out of me" while losing consciousness. Chase sustained a fractured spine and other injuries, Lank said.

Defense attorney Lee McNulty said his client did not intend to kill Chase.

"Unfortunately, the only route [out] of the window [of the car] was through Deputy Chase," McNulty said. "Had my client been inclined to kill Deputy Chase, he had the opportunity to do" it.

Champagne was captured in a house in Richmond, Va., one week after the attack.

McNulty said that Champagne was "obsessed with the fear" of imprisonment for his theft conviction. He was later sentenced to 10 years in prison for the theft, and Monday's sentence was added to that.

In a statement read by attorney Clark Ahlers, Chase wrote that he suffers from seizures related to the attack and had a stroke this year. Neither Chase, a former Baltimore police officer, nor his family was in court.

"My recovery has not been easy and will continue for the rest of my life," Chase wrote.

Chase, 64, said he had been given a second chance at life after the attack, that he had forgiven Champagne for the attack and hoped that Champagne would come to forgive himself.

McNulty said that Champagne has taken responsibility for the injuries and that he was "very upset" to learn that Chase had suffered a stroke.

Champagne made no statement in court. His mother, Ann Marie Champagne, tearfully apologized to Chase and his family.

"It hurts me deeply to know my son could do that," she said.

Retired Montgomery County Circuit Judge Ann Harrington, brought in after Howard County judges recused themselves, sentenced Champagne. She called Chase "an extraordinary man" for forgiving his attacker. She commended Champagne for accepting responsibility for his actions and agreed to recommend his eventual placement in Patuxent Institution in hopes he would be treated for what McNulty called "episodic mental illness."

More than half the county's sheriff's deputies, along with Sheriff James Fitzgerald and Howard County Police Chief William McMahon, attended the proceeding. Fitzgerald said later that no changes in prisoner transfer were made after the assault. However, he said that did not know why Champagne had not been secured with body chains that day, as is customary.

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