CHIPPEWA FALLS — An Eau Claire man who injured a child and police officer, then stole and crashed a squad car on March 6 was sentenced Tuesday to serve three years in prison.
In September, Damian A. Stauffer, 20, 3345 Runway Ave., pleaded guilty in Chippewa County Court to child abuse-intentionally causing harm, battery to an officer, disarming an officer and taking a vehicle without consent.
On Tuesday, Chippewa County Judge Steve Gibbs ordered the prison sentence, along with five years of extended supervision, and required Stauffer to pay about $45,000 in restitution. Gibbs gave Stauffer credit for 276 days already served. Gibbs pointed out that he could also consider charges that were read in to the court record and dismissed, including attempted burglary and robbery with the use of force.
“These are very serious offenses,” Gibbs said. “Numerous times you were told to stop what you were doing, and numerous times you continued doing what you were doing.”
District Attorney Wade Newell requested five years in prison along with four years of extended supervision.
“I can’t think of a battery to law enforcement that resulted in more significant charges that was this bad,” Newell told Gibbs.
The incident occurred March 6 at Stauffer’s home in the city of Eau Claire, in the portion that lies in Chippewa County. According to the criminal complaint, Stauffer intentionally broke the arm of a 3-year-old child at the house. When police arrived at the home, Stauffer punched an officer through the open driver’s side window. The altercation continued with Stauffer striking the officer several times. The officer was able to deploy a stun gun during the struggle, but it didn’t have an effect on Stauffer.
“It was very terrifying to the officer,” Newell said. “It has had a serious affect on his life. What he did to that officer was horrific; he shouldn’t have to worry if he’s going to make it out of that situation alive or not.”
Stauffer was able to get into the police squad, drove it away, but crashed it, causing major damage to the vehicle.
Gibbs told Stauffer he was lucky that the officer didn’t use his firearm during the assault; Gibbs pointed out that when he was district attorney, he reviewed several cases where officers were justified in discharging their guns at assailants.
Newell said the crimes, broken down separately, are each horrible incidents and that is why he sought prison time for each of the different matters.
Defense attorney Fran Rivard said his client doesn’t know exactly how or why the incident occurred. He stressed that Stauffer is just 20 years old with no prior criminal history.
“He needs answers for himself how this all happened,” Rivard said. “He’s never exhibited behavior like that in the past.”
Rivard said Stauffer admitted he had smoked marijuana before the incident, and Rivard wondered if the drug had been laced or spiked somehow, causing Stauffer to act out of normal character. He sought a maximum penalty of probation, with another six months in jail.
Stauffer apologized for his actions. He thanked his family for supporting him at every court proceeding in the past eight months.
“I realized what I did was wrong,” Stauffer said. “I take full responsibility for everything. I would like to move on forward.”
Two neighbors spoke about the incident and how it impacted their lives.
“He stole my peace of mind,” said neighbor Lee Hennick. “I watched from my back porch, the entire incident.”
Hennick praised the police force for their reaction to the assault, saying that in other areas of the country Stauffer easily could have been shot during an altercation with officers. Hennick asked for the maximum probation period possible to protect children in that neighborhood.
Theresa Williams, Stauffer’s mom, said she was 17 when he was born. She admits she had been in bad relationships and that negatively affected Stauffer. She described him as a helpful son who willingly gave her part of his paychecks to help pay bills. She said her younger boy, who was injured by Stauffer, doesn’t fear him.
“It truly was a bad night. It was a mistake,” Williams said. “I wish we could all just make it disappear.”
Melissa Belacek, Stauffer’s older cousin, asked Gibbs for leniency, saying that prison wouldn’t be a good place for him. She said her cousin is a good person who has had a tough life and prison would do more damage than good.
“With the right help, this could be a completely different story,” she told Gibbs.
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