DOBSON — A Mount Airy man who threw urine in the faces of two officers was given a lengthy prison sentence Wednesday in Surry County Superior Court.
Joel Estel Johnson, 53, pleaded guilty to malicious conduct by a prisoner and habitual felon status and was given an active sentence of about four to six years (50 to 72 months).
The incident began August 2016 when deputies with the Surry County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to the intersection of Red Brush Road and Toast Road following a report of two intoxicated individuals near the river.
According to the state’s summary of the evidence, Johnson had been belligerent on the scene, was placed in handcuffs and passed out several times in the back of a patrol car.
Emergency services responded and eventually transported the defendant to Northern Hospital of Surry County.
On the ride to the hospital and once inside, Johnson continued to threaten officers, Mike Beal, assistant district attorney, told the court.
After asking to use the restroom his handcuffs were removed and he was given a urine bottle.
Johnson then threatened to throw urine at the officer, which led to one of his hands being re-cuffed, but after relieving himself he did in fact throw urine of the face and clothes of two officers.
A body camera worn by a deputy captured the incident, Beal said.
Defense attorney Lauren-Maree McPhail informed the judge her client had accepted responsibility for the incident and was remorseful.
“He was very intoxicated on the date of offense,” she said.
“He has subsequently apologized to the officers involved,” she explained, adding that the officers involved had been willing to let Johnson plead down to a misdemeanor charge.
However, the prosecution stuck with the felony charge, which, because of his pleading guilty to habitual felon status, left Johnson vulnerable to an even harsher punishment.
Three distinct prior felony convictions qualified Johnson as a habitual felon: assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury convictions in 1994 and 2003 and possession of a firearm by a felon in 2013, according to Beal.
Those falling in the category of habitual felon are sentenced two classes higher than the felony class of which they are convicted.
And so Johnson’s conviction of malicious conduct by a prisoner, a class F felony, was sentenced as a class C felony.
Presiding Judge Michael Duncan accepted the plea, giving Johnson credit for any time served and recommending substance abuse treatment for the defendant in prison.