Circuit Court Judge Mary Thorstenson agonized over what sentence to impose upon a U.S. Marine who suffered physical and mental injuries during his service in Iraq, who assaulted a Rapid City police officer in February.
Delano Eagle, 30, faced up to five years in prison for the Feb. 26 incident; he was found guilty last month of simple assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and third-offense drunken driving.
The case presented a challenge for the judge, because while the charges called for prison time, Eagle was a war veteran who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after his 2007 deployment to Iraq. While there, he suffered a head injury as well as a shattered ankle and shrapnel injuries from an improvised explosive device.
"I have written and crossed out and written and crossed out a number of times what I should do in this case," Thorstenson told Eagle before his sentencing Tuesday. "It is a difficult place to be."
In the end, Eagle was sentenced to 300 days in Pennington County Jail, followed by five years of probation. He was denied work release and was ordered to begin his sentence Tuesday.
But Thorstenson warned Eagle that she would tolerate no further criminal activity or alcohol abuse. She said even one mistake or probation violation would leave him facing a four-year sentence in the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls.
"One small violation and you will be back in front of me," she said.
Thorstenson suspended a two-year prison sentence on the simple assault charge and ordered him to serve 180 days in the Pennington County Jail. She suspended two more penitentiary years on the third DUI charge, ordering him to serve 90 days in jail. Eagle was sentenced to 30 days in jail and one year of probation on the charge of resisting arrest. He was given credit for 17 days already served in jail.
Eagle's wife, Megan Eagle, has said her husband's problems began after he returned from Iraq. He refused to drive, couldn't sleep for days at a time and struggled with memory issues from the head injury, she said. He began to drink — getting arrested twice for driving under the influence before the most recent incident.
On Feb. 26, his troubles culminated when a Rapid City police officer pulled Eagle over for speeding downtown. Other officers were called to help because of Eagle's belligerent behavior, which was recorded on police video.
When officers tried to arrest him for the drinking offense, Eagle physically resisted. Sgt. John Olson fell on some ice, pulling Eagle and two other officers with him. The officers allege that in the struggle, Eagle choked Olson, and Olson said Eagle tried to grab his gun.
Eagle was initially charged with aggravated assault and faced a potential 15-year prison sentence. A Pennington County jury found him guilty of the lesser charge of simple assault in October.
Since his arrest, Eagle has been getting ongoing treatment for PTSD and alcohol abuse, and Thorstenson ordered him to refrain from alcohol use and stay out of trouble throughout his probation.
"I want an eye on you for a long period of time," she said.
Thorstenson said she hopes Eagle can become a productive member of the community.
"You can turn this around," she said. "I wish for you the best, as I wish Sgt. Olson the best."
After the sentencing, Olson said he was satisfied with Thorstenson's sentence. "It was reasonable," he said.
Pennington County prosecutor Sarah Morrison said she also felt jail time and treatment were sufficient.
"I think it's a good sentence. She did a very good job of balancing his need to have treatment so he can become a productive member of society with a sentence appropriate with what he did."
Morrison said the sentence will ensure Eagle follows through with his alcohol and PTSD treatment.
Before the sentencing, Eagle spoke to the court, apologizing to the officers involved and acknowledging his behavior. Morrison said she believes Eagle is genuinely sorry.
"For the first time, I believe he gets what he did and how serious it is," she said. "I appreciate his apology. I believe he meant it."
Standing outside the courthouse after his sentencing, Eagle rubbed his wife's back and said he never wanted to hurt anyone. The person he was during the incident "is not who I am," he said.
"We'll be OK," he said, looking at his wife. "The plan she (Thorstenson) outlined is really for the best."
[Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect a clarification. Thorstenson suspended a two-year prison sentence on the simple assault charge and ordered Eagle to serve 180 days in the Pennington County Jail. She suspended two more penitentiary years on the third DUI charge, ordering him to serve 90 days in jail. Eagle was sentenced to 30 days in jail and one year of probation on the charge of resisting arrest. He was given credit for 17 days already served in jail.]