Jury finds Perry man guilty of aggravated assault for pointing weapons at police

bpurser@macon.comAugust 15, 2013 

Ronald Dean Bittner

PERRY -- A Houston County jury deliberated for about two hours Thursday before finding a Perry man guilty of aggravated assault for pointing two weapons at a police officer.

Ronald Dean Bittner, 51, also was found guilty of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime in the July 4, 2012, incident in which Perry police responded to a 911 call of celebratory gun fire at Timberwood Apartments at 710 Mason Terrace.

The two officers fired seven shots at Bittner, whose collarbone was grazed by a shotgun blast fired by one of the officers from 15 feet away. Bittner was treated and released from the hospital a few hours later and taken to jail the next day.

Jurors were unable to reach a verdict on a third charge of aggravated assault on a police officer.

Judge Edward D. Lukemire, who presided over the trial that began late Wednesday morning, is expected to sign an order declaring a mistrial only on the charge of aggravated assault on a police officer, said Clif Woody, an assistant district attorney for Houston County.

Although the prosecution could re-indict Bittner on that charge, Woody said he intends to instead file a notice of dismissal.

“It’s a very fair verdict,” Woody said. “We think the jury did their job, and we accept the verdict.”

A sentencing hearing for Bittner on the aggravated assault and the possession of a firearm convictions is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday before Lukemire.

The defense contended that Bittner was responding to orders to put his hands up when he was shot and that the officers never identified themselves as Perry police. The prosecution argued that while the officers did not state they were police officers, they were dressed in uniform and that Bittner simultaneously pointed both a handgun and a revolver at officer Nash Chapman.

Chapman, who the defense noted was in training to become an officer, fired five times but missed Bittner. Officer Armando Sanchez fired twice from his shotgun, with Bittner falling to the ground from the impact of being grazed by a shotgun blast.

Robert Surrency, an assistant public defender who represented Bittner, said he was disappointed in the convictions but grateful that Bittner was found not guilty of aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer. He also was glad for the dismissal of three other charges by the prosecution.

Bittner originally was indicted on charges of two counts of aggravated assault on a police officer, two counts of aggravated assault and two counts of possession of a firearm during a crime. The counts for each charge were for each of the two officers. The three counts related to Sanchez were dismissed, while the two counts Bittner was convicted of by jurors were in relation to Chapman only, Surrency said.

“We’re hopeful for a proportional punishment, that the punishment will fit the crime,” Surrency said.

Noting that Bittner has no prior criminal history, Surrency said he’s asking the judge to consider a sentence of 20 years probation. The maximum sentence Bittner faces is 20 years in prison, Surrency said.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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