Special Letcher Circuit Judge Johnny Ray Harris has denied a motion that would have granted “shock probation” to former Letcher County sheriff ’s deputy Brian Damron and freed Damron from prison after having served only 83 days of a five-year sentence.
Harris denied the motion in Letcher Circuit Court Tuesday morning after hearing arguments from Whitesburg attorney Daniel F. Dotson and Pike Commonwealth’s Attorney Rick Bartley. Dotson filed the motion for shock probation on Damron’s behalf on September 10. Bartley was assigned to prosecute Damron after Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison G. Banks II recused last winter.
Dotson argued Tuesday that shock probation, in which defendants are released from prison and placed on probation after serving between 30 and 180 days of their sentence, is designed for defendants such as Damron, who Dotson said has never been charged with a crime before and has already gotten enough of “a taste” of prison to keep him from committing any other “unacceptable” acts in the future.
Dotson’s motion includes 32 examples honors and achievements, including a Good Conduct Medal and good conduct certificates, that Damron received while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1997 until he was discharged honorably in 2005. The motion also includes records of Damron’s lawenforcement training and copies of dozens of newspaper clippings from past editions of The Mountain Eagle, which, according to Dotson, show “the investigations conducted, indictments and many arrests, as well as the excellent police work demonstrated by Damron during his employment as a police officer.”
“I thought he was a poster child for probation [at sentencing] and certainly is a poster child for shock probation,” Dotson told Harris.
For his argument against releasing Damron early, Bartley told the judge that Damron had agreed to the commonwealth’s plea offer in July with full knowledge that Bartley would oppose all forms of probation or parole for Damron before his full five-year sentence was served.
After acknowledging Dotson’s arguments for shock probation were convincing, Harris denied the request, saying he remained “troubled” by the crimes committed by Damron and that Damron carried out the crimes while he was a working police officer.
“I keep coming back to the issue it was a firearm put back into the stream and of all people it was a police officer putting it back into the stream,” said Harris, who added that he his a strong believer in Second Amendment rights.
Damron, 38, has been held in the Harlan County Detention Center since July 14, when he agreed to serve seven five-year prison terms after pleading guilty to receiving four Glock handguns and one AR-15 rifle, and to stealing one FLIR thermal scope and more than $500 in cash from the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Office.
Though Damron will be eligible for parole on July 12, 2016, the state Department of Corrections says he is expected to remain incarcerated until April 3, 2019.
Because Harris would not order corrections officials to transport Damron from Harlan to Whitesburg, Damron did not attend Tuesday’s hearing. Deputy Marcus K. Terry and Deputy Barry Engle represented the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Office.
Harris praised the quality of Damron’s motion for shock probation during Tuesday’s hearing, saying it is “one of the most well-written motions I have read.”
The judge said he “went back and forth” before deciding how to rule on the motion.