WHITEHALL TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania -- A Whitehall Township man who armed himself with two loaded guns and lay in wait for a burglar, then shot the police officer who responded to his 911 call, was sentenced Monday to 10 years of probation as part of a plea deal.
Judge Kelly L. Banach told William Sturtevant that she was “outraged” by his behavior and hesitant to accept the deal, but agreed after hearing from Officer Jason Mertz, who said he wants to sue Sturtevant because he may never be able to return to police work, a career he’s still paying student loans for.
“We don’t live in the Wild West anymore,” Banach told Sturtevant. “Once you choose to call police, you stand down."
Sturtevant pleaded guilty to aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer, a felony.
In the early morning hours of Sept. 9, 2017, Mertz and another officer were called to Sturtevant’s Main Street home by Sturtevant, 48, who had armed himself with a .380-caliber handgun, a 12-gauge shotgun, a knife, duct tape and other tools.
Hiding in a second floor closet, Sturtevant was waiting for the burglars who had broken into his home and taken copper pipe the day before. The home was vacant and for sale. Police believe the burglars were able to get in by stealing a key from a lockbox on the door.
Instead of staying on the phone with dispatchers after hearing what he thought was someone downstairs around 2 a.m., Sturtevant grabbed the shotgun and went looking for the burglar.
Hearing voices in the basement, he kicked open the door and fired the shotgun, hitting Mertz in the leg.
Mertz told the judge that he collapsed after being hit.
“All I thought was, ‘I can’t die, I have a wife and two kids,’” he said.
Mertz testified he and another officer entered the home, shouting, “Whitehall police!” Sturtevant’s attorney, Jack McMahon, said Sturtevant was waiting to see and hear police cars. Officers had turned their lights and sirens off before arriving at the home.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Diane Marakovits said she also struggled with the plea deal, which was suggested by the defense. She and Mertz talked about it for hours, she said, and he consulted his family and others before agreeing to it Monday, the day Sturtevant’s trial was set to begin.
Mertz told the judge that he’s in constant pain and still has about 160 shotgun pellets embedded in his leg. He cannot climb stairs or perform other police duties, and said he fears he’ll never be cleared to return to active duty. Being forced to give up his career is devastating, he said.
“I love helping people. I just love the job,” Mertz said. “To be there for people, to do what’s right to keep people safe.”
Mertz said he weighed the possibility of being made whole financially if Sturtevant was either acquitted after a trial or sent to prison, and decided that pursuing a civil claim against the shooter was more prudent.
“Believe me, I would want you to throw the book at him,” he said. “But I have student loans for a career I no longer have.”
Sturtevant, a corporate trainer for a cookware firm, has no prior record. He didn’t speak in court. Marakovits noted that he will now have a felony record and be banned from owning firearms.
Whitehall Chief of Police Michael Marks was in court Monday to support Mertz. He, too, said he was uncomfortable with the deal, but respected Mertz’s wishes.
“Mr. Sturtevant did not take into consideration the consequences of his actions,” Marks said. “All this over a couple dollars worth of copper pipe.”
Banach said she could not comprehend why Sturtevant felt the need to “arm himself to the teeth” and wait to catch a suspected burglar.
"What you did was careless, and quite frankly it feels to me like craziness. You have ruined a man’s life,” she said.
Morning Call reporter Laurie Mason Schroeder can be reached at 610-820-6506 or email@example.com
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