Courier staff writer
ALAMOSA — If Benjamin Nicholson assaulted a complete stranger last April, he would probably be heading to state prison right now.
But the former Colorado State Patrol trooper knew his victims well. They were his mother and his stepfather, and as a result of their intervention, he will spend the next 51 days in the county jail, instead.
Twelfth Judicial District Judge Pattie Swift on Tuesday sentenced Nicholson to 90 days behind bars, with credit for time served, and placed him on supervised probation for two years.
The 36-year-old man, who pleaded guilty in January to felony third-degree assault to an at-risk person and misdemeanor third-degree assault, took full responsibility for his actions. But he declined to address the court at length, saying only that he and his mother are working to improve their relationship.
“Your honor, I understand my right, but I have nothing further to add,” he said Tuesday.
The case against Nicholson goes back to April 22, 2012 — exactly one year to the day after he left his job with the Colorado Highway Patrol for personal reasons.
According to court records, the incident began as a verbal argument about parenting, when Nicholson lost his temper and began yelling at his mother and her husband. But it quickly escalated into a physical altercation.
At one point, he pushed his 69-year-old mother into a China cabinet, punched her chest and ribs, and then shoved her down to the floor of the couple’s Mosca-area home.
Her husband was injured when he tried to step in between them.
The then-71-year-old man told a sheriff’s deputy that Nicholson assaulted him and pushed him to the floor, shoving him into his oxygen tank. He also sustained a large bruise to one arm during the assault.
Nicholson’s mother was treated at San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center for more extensive injuries, including bruises on both arms, her right shoulder and her back. The most serious injury occurred as Nicholson pushed her to the floor, when she broke her left ankle.
Deputy District Attorney Mark Loy called Nicholson’s actions “completely abhorrent,” and said the crimes were all the worse because of the defendant’s background in law enforcement.
“This was a clear case of elder abuse,” he said.
But Nicholson’s mother has been very forgiving in this matter, Loy said, and both victims consistently urged the district attorney’s office to seek the minimal sentence.
“Every time I speak with them, I’m as impressed with their poise … as I am disgusted by the events of April 22, 2012,” he said.
Deputy Public Defender Amanda Hopkins said everyone seems to agree that the events of that day were an aberration, which she attributed to extreme stress caused by a failed relationship.
“Mr. Nicholson just lost it and something very bad happened,” she said.
But he has consistently taken responsibility for his actions, Hopkins said, and he is not making any excuses for his behavior.
“Mr. Nicholson has been working very hard to show his mother and his stepfather that this is not him — that this is not their son,” she said.
Judge Swift noted that both victims initially declined to tell authorities who assaulted them because they didn’t want to cause him any problems. But ultimately, they changed their minds, with the hope that Nicholson would receive treatment.
The fact that he committed these acts against two people who are so close to him is quite concerning, she said, noting earlier that Nicholson’s children were present at the scene.
Ultimately, the judge agreed with Loy’s suggestion that probation alone was not sufficient in this case.
“The court has to consider what message (it) is sending to other people similarly situated in the community,” she said.
In addition to the jail term and probation, Nicholson must complete 75 hours of useful public service, and pay $4,487 in restitution, plus court costs and fees. The judge also ordered him to obtain a mental health assessment, maintain full-time employment and submit to random substance abuse tests.