FARMINGTON A veteran Centerville police sergeant, who pleaded guilty to two felonies after beating his wife and 5-year-old stepdaughter, was sentenced Monday to a year in jail.
He could, however, be released in four months if the proper mental health treatment program becomes available.
The victim's father was angry at the light sentence the former officer received.
John Spencer, 44, who resigned from a 16-year career with the Centerville Police Department and has lost his credentials to be a police officer, previously pleaded guilty to child abuse and aggravated assault, both third-degree felonies.
His lawyer, Chad Noakes, said Spencer has "lost everything," recognizes what he did was wrong and is "severely remorseful" and dedicated to changing himself. Noakes said Spencer, who had an inpatient evaluation at the Utah State Prison's diagnostic unit, has been diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder.
Noakes also said the diagnostic report suggested this violence was a single, isolated incident and asked that Spencer receive probation so he can continue working two jobs to pay child support.
Second District Judge Jon Memmott said it appeared that this was not an isolated incident and stated that his primary concern was getting Spencer into treatment. If Spencer was sent to prison, it was likely that he would be out in about a year having had no therapy, the judge said, adding that he was less interested in the job situation but considered treatment "critical."
Memmott sentenced Spencer to two terms of zero-to-five years in prison, but he suspended the prison time, imposed a year in jail with credit for 67 days served and ordered treatment for mental health problems, as well as counseling for anger management and domestic violence. Spencer's case and any payment for restitution will be reviewed Oct. 6. If an appropriate treatment program is available then, the judge said he would consider releasing Spencer on probation.
Armando L. Gutierrez Sr., who is Spencer's father-in-law, was outraged at what he considered a slap on the hand for Spencer and "a slap in our faces" for the two victims and their families.
"This was not justice it was 'protect your own,"' Gutierrez sputtered in the hallway outside the courtroom. "Do they have to be dead before he'll get a stiffer sentence?"
Gutierrez's wife, Delsie, said she also feared that Spencer will hunt her daughter down and murder her once he is out.
"He could still come after her and kill her like that man who went to the church grounds and shot his wife," Delsie Gutierrez said, referring to David Ragsdale, who faces an aggravated murder charge for allegedly killing his wife in a Lehi church parking lot.
In court, Armando Gutierrez told the judge he has worked for Hill Air Force Base for 32 years and been happily married for 33 years. No woman or child should ever be emotionally or physically abused, Gutierrez said, and especially not by a police officer they are in positions of authority and are held to a higher standard.
"He has disgraced the meaning of the badge and the law he had sworn to uphold," Gutierrez said.
Jeanene Spencer, John's wife, provided a written statement saying she and her daughter are being treated for continuing vision problems resulting from the beating, and both suffer from the emotional trauma of domestic violence.
She later said she called police on four occasions, and police officers stood outside with her husband, laughing and joking, while she packed a bag to leave. She also tried to call 911 three other times, but her husband ripped the phone away and threatened a murder/suicide while holding a gun to her head.
David Williams, the father of the girl, who will turn 7 in July, wept as he described how his fun-loving child has become withdrawn and fearful, and he grew particularly emotional when he described how she blames herself for what was happening in the Spencer household.
John Spencer also wept as he apologized to his wife and stepdaughter, to Williams and to all the family members involved."I know what I did was wrong, your honor," Spencer said, tearfully. "I apologize to the court and to the police officers I worked with, and I tell them Mr. Gutierrez is right: We are held to a higher standard."
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