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Lincoln man gets prison time for ramming cruiser, injuring officer and trooper in getaway attempt
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Lincoln man gets prison time for ramming cruiser, injuring officer and trooper in getaway attempt

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Cruiser damage

A Lincoln police cruiser was left with $8,000 in damage after a suspect rammed it several times, injuring an officer and Nebraska State Patrol trooper. Both were released after being treated at a Lincoln hospital for their injuries.

A 30-year-old Lincoln man who injured two law enforcement officers while trying to drive away as they closed in to arrest him went to prison last week for four years.

Connor Sweeney's public defender said he had a minimal criminal record before this, which happened when he was self-medicating his mental health issues by using methamphetamine.

Connor Sweeney

Connor Sweeney

In a victim-impact statement to the judge, the injured Lincoln Police Officer said he could've been killed.

On Dec. 3, police started getting reports just after 5 a.m. about a man in a red Oldsmobile Intrigue going into convenience stores around town asking for money and acting suspicious.

He'd been at seven by 8 a.m., when he walked behind the counter at the U-Stop near 70th Street and Pioneers Boulevard and helped himself to cigars, prompting a 911 call.

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A Lincoln Police Officer pulled up behind the Oldsmobile to block him in. But when he and a state trooper approached Sweeney as he walked to his car, Sweeney got in and rammed the cruiser several times trying to drive off, pinning both officers in the open door frame and injuring them.

Another trooper performed a "tactical vehicle intervention" to stop and arrest Sweeney nearby.

The trooper and officer both went to the hospital, where the Lincoln officer got five stitches.

Sweeney later pleaded guilty to two counts of assault on an officer using a motor vehicle and leaving the scene of an injury accident, each punishable by up to three years, and resisting arrest and operating a motor vehicle to avoid arrest, misdemeanors punishable by up to a year.

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At sentencing Wednesday, Deputy Lancaster County Public Defender Kristi Egger called it upsetting for the officers as well as for Sweeney, who was clearly in a mental health crisis, which officers should've known given the bizarre things he'd been saying. She said she thinks police exacerbated the situation by immediately putting their hands on him, rather than treating him with care, caution and respect, per mental health guidelines.

"I hope that incidents like these cause the police department to relook at how we deal with people who suffer from mental illness issues," Egger said.

Sweeney apologized for his actions and said he now realizes how important it is to stay up on his mental health.

Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Amy Goodro said the report that day initially came in similar to a robbery causing police to think he may be dangerous.

Sweeney may have a mental health issues, she said, but he exacerbated them by taking controlled substances and other drugs.

"There's a need for courts to deter this type of behavior and show these particular victims as well as the law enforcement community as a whole that the judicial system considers and values their safety," Goodro said. "The judicial system needs to protect those who risk their lives and safety every day for us."

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In the end, District Judge Robert Otte told Sweeney when you ignore your mental health and use drugs and alcohol eventually that's going to result in something serious.

"In this case it was very serious to officers," he said.

Otte said he understands the mental health issues, but Sweeney could've gotten help with that and didn't. And he sentenced him to four years in prison, plus a year of post-release supervision.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger

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Public safety reporter

Lori Pilger is a Norfolk native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been a public safety reporter for the Journal Star since 2005.

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