A Boulder man who pleaded guilty to choking a Boulder Community Health nurse to the point of unconsciousness with her own stethoscope last year was sentenced Friday to five years in prison.
Jesse Owen Williams, 32, pleaded guilty to second-degree assault in July, and received his sentence Friday from Boulder District Judge Bruce Langer. Prosecutors asked for a six-year sentence while the probation department recommended four years, but Langer ultimately decided on five years.
Williams will get credit for 625 days time served, and then will serve three years of parole upon his release.
“It’s important that I make a statement that medical professionals, particularly emergency room personnel, need some level of protection; that they can be safe and secure in their jobs, so they can be the caregivers they want to be,” Langer said.
According to an affidavit, Williams was admitted to Boulder Community Health’s Foothills Hospital on Feb. 20, 2018, for a psychiatric issue, but was described as calm and cooperative when he came in.
But when a nurse told Williams that he was being transferred to a different facility, witnesses said Williams grabbed her around the neck and put her in a choke hold, then began choking her with the stethoscope around her neck.
The nurse briefly lost consciousness before security guards were able to tackle Williams and free the nurse.
“If security personnel hadn’t been so close, we might be here on a very different case,” Deputy District Attorney Erica Baasten said.
Williams, who was in custody at the hearing, spoke on his own behalf, telling Langer he was going through a drug-induced psychosis at the time.
“I became my own monster,” Williams said. “I thought she was sending me to Greeley to have me killed. I was only trying to get arrested to be in the relative safety of the jail. I did not intend to kill.”
Williams went on to apologize to the nurse, who was not at Friday’s hearing.
“I am sorry beyond words,” he said.
In asking for a reduced sentence, Williams’ attorney Scott McComas pointed out Williams had no prior convictions and has been doing better recently with treatment.
“He was in a mental health crisis at the hospital, he acted out of what he felt was an existential fear of death,” McComas said. “It was irrational, but he sincerely believed it.”
But Langer said he noted an examination found Williams was sane at the time of the assault and that a scared Williams still had other options besides assaulting the nurse.
“I have trouble giving much weight to that,” Langer said. “Even if I was to accept that you thought your life was in danger, certainly a reasonable response would have been to try to run, not to assault someone.”
Meanwhile, Baasten noted Williams being was a first-time offender and his mental health issues were factors in making the plea deal, which dismissed a count of attempted murder.
While the nurse who was assaulted only submitted a letter to the court, several workers from Boulder Community Health attended the sentencing hearing, some of them nurses wearing stethoscopes.
“Workplace violence is something we all endure pretty much on a daily basis, and the acts are increasing,” Mary Ann Sheets said. “I’ve seen a lot of people get injured. I would just like it if we could set a precedent to get this to stop.”
Cheryl Almond told Langer she has been “spit on, kicked, hit, grabbed, bit, called every name in the book,” in her time as a nurse.
“I saw on social media after this case, people were saying, ‘It’s part of your job,’” Almond said. “No, it’s not. We’re there to try to help people.”
Langer echoed that concern in his statements.
“This case raises a lot of troubling issues, not the least of which is that it seems our emergency rooms have turned into one of the most commonly used mental health facilities, and I don’t think that’s what it was ever intended to be,” Langer said. “That’s very troubling to me.”