Man who assaulted officer pleads guiltyPublished 9:24pm Wednesday, October 3, 2012
The man who severely assaulted a Suffolk police officer on May 19 pleaded guilty Wednesday to numerous charges stemming from the incident.
Joe Louis Staton admitted to assaulting Officer James Winslow and attempting to take his firearm, as well as several other charges rising from the assault and the events before and after it.
“We’re relieved,” Delegate Chris Jones, Winslow’s uncle, said after the hearing. “We’re glad that part of the process is over.”
Staton pleaded guilty to all the charges against him, except for attempted capital murder of a law enforcement officer. Pursuant to a plea agreement, arraignment on that charge will be held until after the Dec. 10 sentencing hearing, when it likely will be dropped.
Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson said the plea agreement had been discussed with Winslow and his family.
“I’m hopeful it will, in some small way, be helpful to Officer Winslow and his family in their recovery process,” Ferguson said of the lack of a trial. “We want to put Officer Winslow and his family under as little stress as possible. They’ve been under enough.”
Several family members attended the hearing, though Winslow himself did not. Jones, while repeating that his nephew’s recovery was “miraculous,” said Winslow still faces more reparative surgery and is having problems with double vision.
“He’s got a wonderful attitude, and he’s determined,” Jones said. “He’s a very grounded young man. He understands that God has spared him. Other than his scars, you would not know what he’s been through.”
The hearing included a detailed summary of the evidence in the case by prosecutor George Bruch.
The morning’s events began when Staton stole a red 1997 Ford Expedition from a 7-Eleven on Hampton Boulevard in Norfolk. The keys had been left in the vehicle while a friend of the owner was in the store.
The owner contacted her lienholder, who activated a tracking device on the vehicle and informed Suffolk police it was at the Raceway on Portsmouth Boulevard. Norfolk police later identified Staton as the man seen in surveillance video stealing the car.
Winslow received an alert about the stolen vehicle and went to the area of East Washington Street and Portsmouth Boulevard to look for the Expedition. He spotted it, turned his police cruiser around and attempted to conduct a traffic stop in the 1000 block of Nansemond Parkway around 8:30 a.m.
Staton immediately stopped the vehicle, got out and fled into the woods along the side of the road. Winslow radioed that he was in foot pursuit and chased Staton, yelling “Stop, police.”
During the pursuit, Staton struck Winslow in the face. The officer was knocked to the ground, and Staton continued to beat him. Winslow used pepper spray, but it had no effect on the criminal. Staton then tried to remove Winslow’s service weapon from its holster.
“He used both hands to maintain control of the weapon and was unable to protect other parts of his body,” Bruch said.
Other officers arriving on scene had lost contact with Winslow over the radio. They walked through the woods calling his name, and one heard him moan and saw him sit up near a chain-link fence. His face and uniform shirt were covered in blood, Bruch said.
“He remembered being beaten, and his next memory was waking up in the hospital,” Bruch said.
Winslow was immediately transported to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital by Nightingale helicopter. Bruch said Winslow had numerous injuries, including broken bones and multiple wounds to his head and face, with dirt and leaves embedded in the wounds. He required numerous surgeries, including one to remove a portion of his skull to relieve swelling on the brain and others to repair soft tissue and reconstruct tear ducts.
Dozens of officers joined the seven-hour manhunt for Winslow’s attacker. Citizens later identified him from photo lineups, saying his photo matched the person they saw running from the traffic stop and running through their backyards, which back up to the wooded area.
Around 3:30 p.m., a homeowner in the 1000 block of Nansemond Parkway heard a noise and discovered Staton in the shower stall in his master bathroom, wearing a blue shirt he had stolen from that home. Staton fled the home, telling the owner, “Don’t tell nobody; I’ll kill you,” Bruch said.
He was finally captured while fleeing that home. Police found Staton’s original white T-shirt, spattered in Winslow’s blood, on top of a pump house in that same backyard.
Staton’s final crimes of the day were forgery and uttering of public documents, which stemmed from giving a false name for the fingerprint card. His identity was confirmed when his fingerprints were compared to prints he had given after previous arrests.
In a letter dated Aug. 8, Staton wrote to his wife from Western Tidewater Regional Jail, admitting to the crime and including photos of the injured Winslow he had obtained as part of the discovery in the case. Jail officials, during a routine review of outgoing mail, intercepted it and turned it over to police.
“The gist and the spirit of the letter is an expression of remorse” and concern for the officer’s well-being, said his defense attorney, James Grandfield. “The letter is just replete with ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’”
Bruch said that was an accurate characterization of the letter.
Speaking after the hearing, Jones said he and his family want to thank all the doctors, nurses, paramedics, police officers and others who helped save Winslow’s life.
“We’re blessed to have a Level 1 trauma center, and we’re blessed to have Nightingale,” Jones said.
The family also wants to thank the community members who rallied around the family after the trauma, Jones added.
Staton faces a maximum sentence of life plus 120 years.