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13 Years in Prison For Matthew Nesbitt, Who’d Threatened Cops With a Knife in Z-Section Chase

| September 14, 2018

Matthew Nesbitt shortly before his sentencing this afternoon. (c FlaglerLive)

Matthew Nesbitt shortly before his sentencing this afternoon. (c FlaglerLive)

Matthew Nesbitt, the 45-year-old Palm Coast man a jury in July found guilty of assaulting cops after threatening them with a knife and using his car as a weapon, was sentenced today to 13 years in prison.

Absent appeals, the sentence closes the book on a Nov. 6 incident when Nesbitt stole his mother’s work truck, later gunned it against a deputy, led cops on a chase and brandished a knife in front of them in a Z-Section lot, possibly in a suicide-by-cop attempt, before he was chased further and finally subdued and arrested. “He was trying to get killed, he couldn’t do it himself, so he was trying to get killed,” his mother said today in court.

The three-hour sentencing hearing devolved at times into a shouting match between one witness and a prosecutor or a tense exchange between the public defender and a sheriff’s sergeant as arguments hinged on how scared deputies had the right to be when Nesbitt confronted them with a knife.

One witness, in an assertion as astounding as it was adamant, thought the deputies’ combined experience and “flack jackets” should have precluded them from being scared.

One of the deputies involved in the November confrontation revealed he had just resigned in part because of that encounter with Nesbitt, while his supervisor got visibly upset at the assistant public defender’s suggestion that the confrontation with Nesbitt was not as life-threatening or “terrifying” as deputies portrayed it. Yet another deputy referred to his deployment as a soldier in the Middle East to say that no matter how extensive his military training, being scared was part of every mission–as it should be for any cop on the beat, he said, if complacency and carelessness aren’t to undermine effectiveness.

The hearing was also a muddle–perhaps intentionally so, from the defense’s perspective–between the uncontested violence of the November incident and the drug-addicted behavior of Nesbitt that day, which was not salient to his behavior’s consequences: The jury found Nesbitt guilty on seven charges, several of them violent felonies, because he had stolen a truck, threatened deputies with a knife and punched a K-9. His drug-addled behavior was not part of the jury’s decision. A judge, of course can mitigate the severity of a sentence based on certain circumstances. But drugs and alcohol are not part of those circumstances: the law specifically bars an individual’s addiction as a mitigating factor.

The prosecution had asked for 20 years in prison.

Deputy Duenas Confronts Matthew Nebit, Nov. 2017

“I remember this case vividly from the trial,” Circuit Judge Terence Perkins said, referring to six pages of notes he took during the trial. “This is a troubling case on a number of levels and unfortunately for me, as the attorneys well know, I don’t get to sentence Mr. Nesbitt either as a good person or a bad person or an addict or anything like that, I get to sentence him solely on the actions that were charged by the jury and based on this case.”

He said there was no doubt that the officers involved in the woods “were threatened with and faced deadly force. No question about it. They had every right and every reason to meet that deadly force with their own deadly force,” but for the “incredible restraint and courage on their part.” He told Nesbit that “but for that, you wouldn’t be here today.” He added, “they had their guns out, they could have squeezed that trigger in a heartbeat.”

For the defense, the only way to attempt to lessen the sentence was to portray Nesbitt as the person he could be, when sober (or the more tempered person he has recently been in jail), as opposed to the person he was the day of the confrontation (and the person he’s often been when under the effects of addition). The witnesses Nunnally presented to the judge–Nesbitt’s mother Linda Aurora, friends of his mother, one of his own closest friends–tried to diminish his portrayal as a “monster” and focused on the shoddy ways the country deals with drug addiction. Their pleas for a more compassionate and effective system were sincere and echoed a mounting consensus from health professionals and even law enforcement to some extent.

But the relevance of the testimony to the sentencing hearing was legally null: if inebriation or drug addiction could affect a sentencing, drunk drivers would have a ready excuse: they don’t drive dangerously when sober. That, in essence, was what the defense was attempting to convey about Nesbitt: he is not a dangerous person when sober.

“It’s really hard for me as his defense attorney to defend against the police officers who come in and say this is the worst thing that ever happened in my life, I’ve never dealt with something like this before,” Nunnally said. “We’ve seen the heated back and forth about how people feel.” But she also noted that Nesbitt had no history of violence. The mitigating circumstances, she said, was Nesbitt’s willingness to take anger management and deal with his addiction while in jail. And she returned to the arguments she’d made at trial: that for all the cops’ description of the incident as life-changing, it was not the worst she had seen, nor was it as dangerous or as disturbing as the cops had portrayed it.

The defense asked for probation and no prison time, if a low amount of prison time that Nunnally did not specify, followed by probation.

A third grade teacher at First Baptist Christian Academy who’s known Nesbitt since the two men’s teens said he’d been Nesbitt’s sponsor in a 12-step program. “I’ve seen Matthew at his worst and at his best,” the teacher said, explaining that what had precipitated the November incident was Nesbitt’s girlfriend breaking up with him and taking their son away from him, “Matthew became very depressed” and chose to drink and do drugs again, the teacher said, describing him as “lovable” when clean.

Nesbitt cried as his friend spoke.

Nesbitt himself tried, as defendants almost invariably do at sentencing, to portray himself as not merely remorseful but reformed. “In my past I never really cared about anybody but myself,” he told the judge in a brief statement to the court. But now, with a young son, “I think about my actions and who I’ve hurt.” He said he never hit the dog, never intentionally tried to strike anyone as he drove the truck, and “never threatened anybody.”

Assistant State Attorney Mike Stover in his closing argument termed himself “offended” by the suggestion that Nesbitt had not been threatening. “This was a bad case,” he said, that severely affected deputies involved.

The sentencing hearing before Perkins included, among others, testimony by Jonathon Duenas and Frederick Gimble, the two Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies who had been directly involved in the confrontation with Nesbitt in Palm Coast’s Z Section last November, both of them with their guns drawn as Nesbitt stood a short distance from them in a lot of thick brush, brandishing a knife and yelling for Duenas to “call off the dog.” Duenas had his K-9 at the time.

In a surprise, Duenas, who testified by phone, said he’d resigned from the Sheriff’s Office on Monday. He said he did so at least in part because of that and one other more recent incident involving another confrontation with a suspect who had appeared to be grabbing a gun at the beginning of drug search, after a traffic stop.

“It definitely linked to a lot of the combined stress that ultimately led me to make the decision to no longer be in law enforcement,” Duenas said of the confrontation with Nesbitt, repeating similar words when Assistant State Attorney Michael Stover, who prosecuted the case, asked him about the August confrontation with Alphonso Brooks in Bunnell. (Duenas has a young child and owns a gate and fencing business, Blueline Property Solutions, launched 15 months ago, both of which appear to have contributed to his decision to change careers and lifestyle.)

The prosecution’s witnesses also included Sgt. Jon Welker, the 23-year veteran of the sheriff’s office who supervises its K-9 unit. He was so visibly upset on the stand that Regina Nunnally, the assistant public defender representing Nesbitt, asked him point blank: “You seem a little upset.”

“I am a little upset,” Welker replied. He was in disbelief about misconceptions regarding cops and their state of mind in dangerous situations. “I’ll be honest with you,” he told Nunnally, “what never goes away is the realization of the danger of this job,” and sitting in court this afternoon was in itself a reminder of it all, he said, speaking of “the trauma, the surprise, the stress that comes along with that.” He spoke of the “lost innocence” of deputies after they come face to face with life-threatening danger. “You never really understand what that means until youre standing 10 feet away from a guy who’s yelling he’s going to kill you and waving a knife at you.”

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8 Responses for “13 Years in Prison For Matthew Nesbitt, Who’d Threatened Cops With a Knife in Z-Section Chase”

  1. hawkeye says:

    justice is served!

  2. Really says:

    Enough already c u

  3. Anna says:

    Drugs are terrible but no excuse for this man’s actions. He is best behind bars the full sentence.

  4. Marty Barrett says:

    The ‘lost innocence ‘ of the deputies involved? Seriously? Someone’s watching a little too many Lifetime movies. You can’t be both, you’re either the tough guy with metastatic machismo seeping out of your pores or you are an innocent lamb, in danger of having your innocence hijacked at any turn. Which is it?

  5. Trailer Bob says:

    What a nice young man…right! Once you make the decision to drink or use drugs excessively, well knowing the possible consequences, you cannot do sick crap then cry what a good person you are. Sorry dude…do your time and straighten you life out.

  6. Bill g says:

    So much crime in palm coast anymore, 2nd highest in state… yes! Look it up!

  7. Hi says:

    Duenas dog bit the crap out of his own handlers arm! Jesus man train that hound

  8. Anonymous says:

    That’s about 7 years to get his act together. Sounds fair enough to me.

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