Hancock sentenced for 2009 high-speed chase, collision

The man responsible for a 2009 high-speed chase culminating in a collision was formally sentenced in Kenai superior court Tuesday.

Robert Hancock will actively serve seven years and one month for the assault and eluding a peace officer convictions.

Hancock, 32, originally faced a slew of other charges — including attempted murder, driving under the influence, and reckless endangerment — related to the May 2009 incident in which he sped through Sterling, Soldotna, and Kenai in an attempt to flee from the police.

At one point Hancock stopped the vehicle in Kenai, at which time officers approaced and fired shots, striking Hancock in the back and sending shards of glass into the eyes of his 4-year-old son. Hancock drove off, stopped again, and his son exited the vehicle.  Hancock eventually deliberately collided with Kenai Police Officer Casey Hershberger’s patrol car.

Hancock struck a plea deal at the beginning of May which dropped many of those charges, including the attempted murder charge, in exchange for his guilty pleas.

Hancock chose to address the court on the matter of his sentencing, at which time he apologized both to the community and to his family for his actions.

“I really am truly sorry,” he said, “and I don’t know if that matters, but I’d like to be able to say it and put it out there.”

Hancock’s girlfriend, who is the mother of his 2-year-old daughter, was present. So was his mother and 6-year-old son from a previous marriage. He said it has been a trying and emotional time for his family, and that he would have chosen to go to trial if it weren’t for them.

“I think this is all going to work out for the best,” he concluded. “I still don’t like the amount of time; I don’t think anybody would. Jail’s not fun. But maybe it’s what’s best for me.”

Hancock also acknowledged his past criminal history — an extensive one, dating back to when he was 12 — which includes three prior felony convictions and a handful of class A misdemeanor convictions.

“I made some really bad choices,” he admitted. “And this isn’t the first time I’ve made bad choices, but this is the first time it’s amounted to something like this.”

In addition to the more than seven years of active jail time, Hancock has an additional six years and 11 months of suspended time, which he could face if he were to violate probation upon his release. The plea deal also stipulated Hancock incur five years of probation after he is released, and that he receive both substance abuse and mental health assessments. The deal imposed a $5,000 fine, all of which was suspended as well.

The prosecution and the defense had the opportunity to address the judge regarding the sentencing.

Prosecuting attorney Scot Leaders voiced his opinion that the sentencing was rather light, considering both the matter at hand and Hancock’s prior criminal history.

“It seems that Mr. Hancock,” Leaders said, “has simply never gotten the message with his prior criminal sentences.”

Leaders pointed out that “warranted or not, it’s one last chance” for Hancock to prove he can be rehabilitated.

Defense attorney Bill Taylor acknowledged that this sentence is “a bitter pill for (Hancock) to swallow,” but that he has embraced the idea of taking responsibility of what he has done. Taylor also said Hancock has taken anger management, stress management, and relapse prevention classes in jail since he was arrested back in May 2009.

Taylor also spoke out on the police misconduct that he believes took place during the Hancock incident. Taylor said he did not want to minimize what his client had done, but that the officers’ “lack of professionalism” needlessly escalated the situation when they decided to fire at Hancock.

“We don’t want the police to take a bad situation and make it worse, which is what they did here,” Taylor said.

Taylor contends that while Hancock obviously should have stopped his vehicle when first instructed to do so, officers essentially provoked Hancock’s assaultive behavior when they fired at him while his son was in the car.

“It was the shooting — that was unjustified in this case,” Taylor said, “that turned the situation from somebody just fleeing – which is inappropriate, but we’re on the Peninsula; there’s nowhere to go — into assaultive behavior.”

Leaders objected to Taylor’s statements multiple times, claiming the conduct of the officers was not relevant to the sentencing hearing. Judge Carl Bauman sustained the objections.

Jessica Burch, Hancock’s girlfriend and the mother of his 2-year-old daughter, agreed with Taylor.

“I know cops are here to protect and serve,” Burch, 32, said after the hearing, “and there are good cops and there are bad cops, but what they did and the choices they made that day and the actions they took against him is what made this the way it is.”

Burch completely understands that Hancock made terrible decisions and violated the law, but she maintains there is another side to the story.

“He did make some bad choices,” she said, “and he’s paying those consequences. But he’s not this monster that everybody’s making him out to be.”

Both Burch and Taylor pointed out that there is no police recording of the shooting, although there is footage of the chase both before and after the shooting occurred.

“He’s sitting in there for a lot longer than he would be if those cops didn’t start shooting first for no reason,” Burch said. “Their lives were not in danger; he was in park and pulled over.”

Burch said her boyfriend is a good man and a loving father, and that she regrets that the only time he has gotten to hold their daughter is when he had handcuffs on.

A restitution hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4 to determine how much Hancock must pay for damage to Hershberger’s patrol car and other materials damaged during the high-speed pursuit and subsequent collision.