Sprinkler valve thief pleads to all counts

Man allegedly struck officer with car as he fled

By: Jeremy Selweski | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published May 6, 2014

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — The man accused of hitting a police officer with his car last year as he fled the scene after stealing a resident’s sprinkler control valves opted to plead to all four criminal counts against him rather than face a jury trial.

Stephen Mispelon, 27, of Macomb Township, pleaded no contest during a pretrial hearing held April 28 before Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Faunce. In criminal court, no-contest pleas are treated as an admission of guilt for the purposes of sentencing, but they also provide some additional legal protection in civil court.

Mispelon had been facing charges of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, a 10-year felony; fleeing and eluding police in the third degree, a five-year felony; malicious destruction of a building greater than $200 but less than $1,000, a one-year misdemeanor; and larceny less than $200, a 93-day misdemeanor. He will be sentenced by Faunce on June 10.

Following several postponements, Mispelon was scheduled to begin a jury trial in Circuit Court on April 29, but his defense attorney, Cecil St. Pierre, advised him not to proceed with the trial because the evidence against him was so strong.

“Quite frankly, this is not an easy case,” St. Pierre said. “He was caught stealing some items, and then he tried to flee from police, and then he hit an officer as he drove his vehicle away. That would be a very difficult case for us to win.”

St. Pierre noted that Michigan’s sentencing guidelines give Faunce a fairly wide latitude in issuing Mispelon’s punishment. If Faunce decides to sentence Mispelon to a lengthy term in state prison rather than a shorter one in county jail, St. Pierre will recommend that his client withdraw his no-contest plea.

“There’s a big difference between county jail and state prison,” St. Pierre explained. “I didn’t want (Mispelon) to risk a long state prison sentence if we tried to bring this case before a jury. But if the judge decides to go down that road anyway, then he’s got nothing to lose, and we might as well go ahead with a jury trial.”

St. Pierre added that he hopes to see a more lenient sentence from Faunce in which Mispelon would only serve five to 10 months in Macomb County Jail.

Jurij Fedorak, the Macomb County assistant prosecutor assigned to the case, indicated that he was “not at all” surprised to see Mispelon plead to all charges.

“I feel like this was a pretty open-and-shut case,” he said. “I think the deputies did a great job apprehending the suspect, and they were able to gather a lot of solid evidence against him.”

According to Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, during the early-morning hours of May 28, 2013, the Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call from a Macomb Township resident who said that someone was attempting to steal something from outside her home near 22 Mile and Romeo Plank roads.

The first deputy to arrive at the scene saw Mispelon walking on a nearby street and ordered him to stop. Mispelon then ran over to a car that was parked on the street and sped away, allegedly striking the deputy’s hands with his car in the process.

The deputy fired two gunshots at the fleeing vehicle, one of which hit Mispelon in the arm and penetrated straight through. Mispelon then drove to another nearby subdivision as deputies chased him through residential streets. He was arrested after crashing his car into a sheriff’s K-9 vehicle near Mohawk Elementary School.

The deputy, a 19-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, was sent to a local hospital and treated for minor injuries. He recovered fully from the collision and soon returned to work.

Wickersham believed that Mispelon was attempting to steal the control valves from the resident’s sprinkler system but was caught in the act.

At the time of his arrest, the Sheriff’s Department had been investigating at least 40 reports of stolen sprinkler valves across Macomb County over the previous month. A definitive motive for the thefts was never publicly disclosed, but Wickersham suggested that the suspect may have been attempting to steal sprinkler valves in order to strip out the metal and sell it to scrap yards.

If Mispelon’s case does go to trial, St. Pierre plans to call out the deputy who arrested his client for what he believes were violations of police procedure.

“The law states that you cannot pull out your gun for a misdemeanor case, and you cannot shoot at a moving vehicle,” he contended. “I tried to get the case dismissed because I believe the deputy should have never drawn his gun on (Mispelon), but the judge already said no to that.”

Fedorak dismissed St. Pierre’s allegations but declined to address them directly.

“That’s just a bunch of defense attorney posturing,” he said. “They can say whatever they want, but the fact of the matter is that the suspect pled guilty to all charges against him.”