PORT ANGELES — About two dozen law enforcement officers created a thin blue line in Clallam County Superior Court on Tuesday as James Edward Sweet pleaded guilty to trying to harm their own.
They watched as Sweet, 38, pleaded guilty to multiple charges of assault against three police officers and a deputy in a May 28, 2016, shootout east of downtown Port Angeles that began at about 10 that morning.
Sweet, shackled Tuesday and wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, never looked at the Port Angeles police officers and Clallam County Sheriff’s deputies who filled two rows of seats and stood along the wall in the back of the courtroom.
Deputy Port Angeles Police Chief Jason Viada was among them.
“You’ve heard of the thin blue line, and that police officers represent the very thin blue line between criminals and everyone else who would like to live their lives in peace without being victimized,” Viada said in an interview.
“Anytime someone attacks a police officer, it is an attack on one of society’s few protectors.
“In many ways, every officer in that room is like one of my brothers or one of my sisters.”
Sweet had pleaded not guilty to eight charges that were reduced to five charges in return for guilty pleas that could land him in prison until he is 75 years old.
The maximum total in fines is $130,000.
Sweet, a convicted felon, admitted to committing first-degree assault with a firearm-firearm enhancement against Port Angeles Police Officer Whitney Fairbanks.
He pleaded guilty to second-degree assault with a deadly weapon against Sgt. Kori Malone, Reserve Officer Dallas Maynard, county Sheriff’s Sgt. Shaun Minks and motorist Patrick Brady Sr., all with firearms enhancements that will increase Sweet’s prison time.
Fairbanks, Malone and Minks — who were in the courtroom — did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
A pre-sentence investigation was ordered and a sentencing hearing set for 9 a.m. March 20.
Until then Sweet, who was in the Clallam County jail on $1 million bail, will be held without bail.
A plea deal recommendation of 444 months behind bars — 37 years — that was agreed to by Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michele Devlin and Clallam Public Defender lawyer Alex Stalker will be considered at the sentencing hearing.
Sweet sped up to 60 miles an hour eastbound in a 40-mph zone on Highway 101 after Fairbanks tried stopping him for an alleged traffic violation at Highway 101 and Front Street at about 9:45 a.m., according to the probable cause statement.
Sweet crashed into Brady at the U.S. Highway 101-Monroe Road intersection, firing twice at Fairbanks from inside his vehicle as she blocked him with her cruiser before he ran away, shooting his gun as he fled.
He fired at least five times from a .38-caliber revolver during the shootout, according to the statement.
The gun battle ended with Sweet injured, lying on the grass not far from his vehicle with the four officers holding him at gunpoint.
“I just wanted them to end it and kill me,” he said two weeks later while he recovered from his bullet wounds.
Sweet, who has a 10th-grade education, had been on state Department of Corrections supervision after pleading guilty in December 2014 to attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle and heroin possession, according to court records.
His Camry contained two handguns, three baggies totalling more than an ounce of suspected methamphetamine, 3 grams of suspected Black Tar heroin, a bag of unused syringes, scales, and numerous dime-size plastic bags used for packaging drugs, according to the statement.
Devlin had submitted a witness list with 78 names Jan. 22 in anticipation of the case going to trial March 19.
Sweet’s March 20 sentencing hearing has been scheduled for a full day for victim impact statements.
Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith said Tuesday he will address the court.
Smith was in the courtroom Tuesday with his colleagues in blue.
“Just by being there, it shows we care about the officers involved and we care about the process,” Smith said later Tuesday.
The last law enforcement officer killed in Clallam County was Whitney Fairbanks’ mother, U.S. Forest Service Officer Kristine Fairbanks, 51, of Forks on Sept. 20, 2008, on a Forest Service road near Sequim.
Her assailant was killed later that night.
Whitney Fairbanks was a new police officer who had been on patrol for six months when Sweet shot at her at close range.
“If you haven’t had that experience, then you’re trying to understand why this is such a big deal,” Smith said.
“That’s why we feel so strongly about this.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].