BRATTLEBORO -- A Newfane man pleaded guilty Thursday to trying to start a "shootout" with state troopers in April at his Williamsville home.
Welton W. Townsend, 71, entered a plea in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division to one count of reckless endangerment and immediately was sentenced to a suspended prison term of four to eight months.
That means Townsend will not spend any time behind bars as long as he abides by court-ordered conditions -- which include mandatory counseling, no firearms and no alcohol -- while he serves a year of probation.
Both the prosecution and defense noted Townsend's lack of any prior criminal record before the incident and his good behavior since.
"I'd be very surprised if we saw Mr. Townsend back here again, particularly given the structure that these conditions of probation are suggesting," defense attorney Richard Ammons said.
State police said they responded to Townsend's Grimes Hill Road home on April 24 for a report of a suicidal man with a handgun.
Troopers led Townsend's wife safely away from the home, but they said Townsend stood on the front porch and yelled, "You want a shootout, I'll give you a shootout." He went back inside and then emerged with a black handgun.
Townsend ignored demands that he drop the weapon, police said. He demanded that the troopers shoot him and fired three shots in the air, then began walking toward state police Sgt. Christopher Buckley.
"At this time, I felt Townsend was attempting to engage Sgt. Buckley," Trooper Christopher Lora wrote in a court affidavit. "I prepared to fire on Townsend due to his sudden escalation."
The incident suddenly ended, though, when Townsend threw down his gun and laid on the ground.
Ammons said "bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts," along with alcohol, led to the incident.
Thursday's hearing had been scheduled to determine Townsend's competency to stand trial. Based on an expert's opinion, Ammons, Windham County State's Attorney Tracy Shriver and Judge David Suntag agreed that Townsend is competent.
But Townsend also had decided to close the case by pleading guilty. As part of Thursday's plea agreement, the state dropped a disorderly conduct charge.
"Mr. Townsend lived over 70 years of his life without contact with law enforcement authorities here in Vermont and apparently was in such despair that this situation occurred," Shriver said.
"We have been in close contact with his wife," Shriver said. "She's very much in favor of this resolution and very much wants to work on her relationship with her husband and help him."
Shriver also praised the state troopers who arrested Townsend without firing a shot.
"I am very happy that the troopers who responded had the experience, the restraint and the ability to not have this situation turn out in a far, far worse manner," she said.
Ammons said he had watched state troopers' cruiser videos of the incident and "was very impressed with how professionally the Vermont state police handled themselves and how they addressed Mr. Townsend in a very difficult moment for him and a difficult moment for them."
Townsend spoke briefly, apologizing for creating a situation in which a trooper nearly was forced to fire his weapon.
"Thank God he didn't pull the trigger, for his sake and mine," Townsend said.
Suntag said he was satisfied that Townsend understood why his actions were such a "serious matter" for all involved.
Also, given Townsend's background, Suntag said he is confident that "compliance with conditions of probation is not going to be difficult for you."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.