Three sent to prison in assault on state officer

William Nattrass cried through most of Tuesday's hearing to determine if he would go to prison in an assault on a state police officer in November.

The 21-year-old Placerville, Calif., man sniffled during comments from victim Capt. P.K. O'Neill, wept quietly as his attorney Kay Ellen Armstrong tried to explain why he'd taken a gun from a police officer and tried to shoot him, and tightly shut his eyes when it was mentioned that his 17-year-old brother, Raymond, could end up in prison too.

William Nattrass never disagreed with anyone's statements.

He looked pained during O'Neill's statement to the court.

"This impact statement should be coming from the grave," O'Neill said. "I should be dead, having been brutally and unnecessarily murdered at the hands of the three defendants standing before the court today."

Nattrass, a former dietary aide, apologized just before Judge Bill Maddox sentenced him to 28 to 72 months in prison for two counts of assault with a deadly weapon.

"I'm very sorry for what has happened. I'm not a bad person, sir," Nattrass told the judge through tears.

Then he turned around to look into the gallery.

When he spotted O'Neill, he muttered to himself, "There he is."

"Mr. Phillip O'Neill," Nattrass continued, "I am sorry sir. I never wanted anything like this to ever happen. Sorry for the misunderstanding. I'm not a bad person, sir. This is a nightmare, I just want to wake up from it and I know I won't."

On Nov. 14, Nattrass, his brother Raymond, and Vivian Leman, 28, attacked O'Neill on Nye Lane. While Raymond and Leman were pummeling O'Neill with blows, William Nattrass wrestled O'Neill's gun away and tried to shoot the 35-year-old police veteran after he'd intervened in a dispute among the drunken trio outside the Department of Public Safety's Central Records Repository, according to court documents.

According to documents, William Nattrass twice pulled the trigger on the handgun. Twice it didn't fire because the safety was on.

Defense attorneys argued that O'Neill didn't look like a police officer in his civilian clothes, nor did the building he'd come out of appear to be connected to law enforcement. And, when O'Neill became frightened once William Nattrass reached into his sweatshirt pocket, the officer pulled out his weapon and pointed it at all three of them.

"They were confronted by a stranger, in plainclothes, after dark, who was not obviously a policeman by looking at him and the fella is pointing a gun at them," explained Raymond Nattrass' attorney, Ben Walker. "(The state's) position is that (the Nattrass brothers and Leman) formed an intent to try to kill (O'Neill). I think it's just as reasonable to believe that William was trying to disarm (O'Neill) to protect himself."

But District Attorney Neil Rombardo, who prosecuted the case, had a different theory. He said William Nattrass was not attempting to get O'Neill's gun to protect himself or the others, but to help his brother Raymond, escape police. Raymond had absconded from a juvenile probation facility in Placerville and William knew if the cops found him, he'd go to jail.

"William Nattrass took that firearm, pointed it at Captain O'Neill's head and told him he was going to 'cap his a__.' Captain O'Neill then got to safety behind a car ... and William Nattrass stepped back, re-racked that firearm and then pointed it at (O'Neill) again," said Rombardo. "Your Honor, if it wasn't for the age of Captain O'Neill's weapon, a 1972 Walther ... he would be dead right now. William Nattrass just didn't know how to work the safety. It's that simple. If he did he would have killed him and there's no doubt he would have shot him right in the head when he told him he was going to 'cap his a--.'"

Rombardo added: "I assure you the people of Carson City want these people to go to prison."

Leman spoke briefly to the court before Maddox sent her to prison for 12 to 72 months on a charge of principal to assault with a deadly weapon.

"I wish I could go back to this day and change it all but I can't. My stay here ... I've grown up a lot. I've seen a lot, and I know that I should have been the adult in this situation. It is my fault because I should have known," she said. "I know I was drinking a lot. I totally blacked out. For the last six months (since her arrest) I don't remember nothing but leaving my house, being in the back of a cop car and showing up here."

Raymond Nattrass, who was 16 at the time of his arrest and was adjudicated as an adult because of a lengthy juvenile record and the serious nature of the allegations against him, said few words before his prison term of 18 to 72 months was handed down on a charge of principal to assault with a deadly weapon.

"I'm sorry. I know there are no excuses for my actions, although I'm sure if I would have known Mr. O'Neill was a law enforcer this offense would never have taken place."

Contact reporter F.T. Norton at ftnorton@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1213.

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