A 43-year-old Juneau man was sentenced to six months in prison for jokingly pointing a handgun, later revealed to be a toy gun, at a Mendenhall Valley Breeze In employee while she was working behind the counter last fall.
Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg imposed the sentence Wednesday in accordance with a plea agreement after Lee A. Grierson pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge of fourth-degree assault.
“Six months,” District Attorney David Brower said. “I think Mr. Grierson probably deserves longer, but we did not want to put the victim through a trial, so he’s getting six months flat.”
Brower elaborated the experience was traumatic for the employee, who is only identified in court records by her initials, K.F.
Brower said she told the state she did not want to participate in the court proceedings any longer, and she moved out of state.
According to an affidavit, K.F. told police in an interview a white male wearing camouflage whom she had seen several times before walked into the store on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2011.
They talked briefly (she asked him if he needed help, and he replied, “I hope so,” according to the affidavit) before K.F. walked behind the counter. All of a sudden, he pulled out a black handgun from his side, yelled “Freeze!” and pointed it at her for about two seconds while he stood in a shooting stance, the affidavit states.
“I thought, ‘You got to be kidding. Oh my God,’” K.F. is quoted as saying in court papers. “Then he said, ‘Happy Veterans Day’ and I told him that I was a veteran (of the U.S. Coast Guard) and it was not funny. I could smell alcohol on him.”
K.F. told officers she thought the gun was real, although she couldn’t make out the make and model, until he pointed it to the ceiling and saw the magazine was missing.
“I was in shock,” K.F. said according to the affidavit. “I just moved up from Florida because the crime down there was so bad.”
Juneau Police Department officers reviewed the incident on video surveillance. Later on, they showed K.F. a photo lineup and she identified Grierson as the man with the gun, the affidavit states.
Grierson was indicted by a grand jury in late January on one count of third-degree assault, a felony, for recklessly placing K.F. in fear of imminent serious physical injury with a gun, and one count of third-degree weapons misconduct, also a felony, for knowingly possessing a firearm capable of being concealed after having previously been convicted of a felony.
A JPD officer conducted an interview with Grierson who said he wanted to clear things up about the incident, and that it was all a joke and that he was sorry it scared the employee, according to the affidavit.
On Wednesday, Grierson again expressed apologies.
“Wouldn’t do it again,” he told the judge.
The plea agreement reached with prosecutors dropped the felony weapons misconduct charge and reduced the felony assault charge to a class ‘A’ misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for a class ‘A’ misdemeanor is one year in jail and a $10,000 fine.
The agreement also dismissed all his petition to revoke probation that were filed after the incident. Brower said Grierson was, and still is, on probation for several prior convictions.
Grierson’s criminal history dates back to 1987, Brower said, and he was convicted of felony eluding for failure to stop for police in 1999. In more recent years, Grierson has been convicted of criminal trespass, violating conditions of release, refusal to submit to a chemical test and several counts of criminal mischief, Brower said.
Grierson’s attorney Timothy Ayer told the judge he thought the six-month sentence was an appropriate resolution since the gun was a fake, which nearly eliminated the possibility of someone being hurt.
Brower said it was not certain that the fake gun, which was brought into the court for Pallenberg to examine and was later forfeited to the state, was the one used in the incident.
Pallenberg called Grierson’s actions “foolish,” especially since it’s not uncommon for shop owners in Juneau to have a gun under the counter, or for customers to pack a gun.
“They may have been entirely justified at taking a shot at you,” he said.
Since Grierson has been held in custody since November, he has already completed his time served in prison.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.