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Last updated: Wed. Jul. 02, 2014 - 02:00 pm EDT

Firing upon police officer gets 90 years

Man had history of illegal deeds

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His criminal history dates back to 1993, when as a kid, the police began picking him up on charges of trespassing, auto theft and resisting arrest.

He was in and out of Department of Correction boys’ schools until becoming an adult, after which he began racking up misdemeanor and felony convictions on charges such as battery, public nudity and carrying a handgun without a license.

Somewhere in between, he was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and, according to court testimony, schizophrenia.

It’s unclear what went through 34-year-old Daniel Spells Jr.’s mind as he pulled a gun and fired at Fort Wayne police officer Treven Brown last year, but that act, coupled with his past behavior, has likely landed him behind bars for the rest of his life.

An Allen Superior Court judge sentenced Spells to 90 years in prison Tuesday, less than a month after a jury convicted him on a slew of charges that included attempted murder.

“This was the most senseless act of violence I’ve seen in quite some time, Mr. Spells,” Judge Fran Gull said upon handing down her sentence.

Spells was in the 2800 block of South Harrison Street on May 17, 2013, when Brown was called to a domestic disturbance there. Although he was not involved in the disturbance, Spells matched the description of someone who was, according to court documents.

Brown approached Spells and asked for identification, which Spells provided.

But Brown, concerned about Spells’ body language, did not look at it right away. Instead, he kept his attention on Spells, who, with his body still angled, quickly put his right hand on his right side.

Brown grabbed Spells’ left arm, and that’s when a struggle ensued, Spells pulled a .45-caliber semiautomatic and shots rang out.

As the two wrestled with each other and ended up on the ground, Spells fired the gun until it was empty.

None of the bullets hit Brown or anyone else, but some of the projectiles ended up in a car with people inside as well as a home in the neighborhood.

Brown was able to wrest away the gun from Spells without pulling his own.

“I feel fortunate to be here,” Brown said during Spells’ sentencing hearing. “Not only fortunate to be in this courtroom, but to be alive.”

“I feel fortunate for Mr. Spells, too,” he continued. “My training and experience kicked in.”

Spells’ public defender, Quinton Ellis, argued during Spells’ trial last month that his client did not intend to shoot Brown but that the gun discharged during the struggle. He also asked the jury to find Spells guilty but insane, which it did not.

Instead, Spells was convicted of attempted murder, carrying a handgun without a license with a prior felony conviction, criminal recklessness with a deadly weapon, resisting law enforcement and being a habitual offender.

On Tuesday, Ellis asked the judge to give Spells a lighter sentence than the maximum because of his client’s mental illness.

But Allen County prosecutors argued that the nature of his most recent crime; his failed attempts at rehabilitation; and his history of using alcohol and drugs instead of his needed medication were reasons for a heavier sentence.

Brown asked the judge for the maximum sentence.

“My concern is not for retaliation; my concern is that the citizens and other law enforcement officers are safe,” he said.

Gull sentenced Spells to 50 years on the attempted murder charge, which was enhanced by 30 years because he is a habitual offender.

She then ordered him to serve eight years on the handgun charge and two years on the criminal recklessness charge.

All of those are to be served consecutively in a maximum-security facility.

“The fact you are here is a remarkable token to the strength and training and professionalism of officers with the Fort Wayne Police Department,” Gull told Spells.

Spells stared straight ahead during most of the hearing, as if gazing off into space at times.

When it was his turn to speak, he mumbled some words and trailed off into silence before deciding not to continue.

Before being taken away in shackles and cuffs, Spells noted that he would appeal his conviction and sentence.

jeffwiehe@jg.net


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