A Fort Hood soldier was sentenced to a term of probation after a verbal domestic argument escalated into an armed standoff with Killeen police last year.
Sgt. 1st Class David Paul Lawrence, 45, pleaded guilty on March 8 to two charges of aggravated assault against a public servant, a first-degree felony. On Monday, after hearing testimony from the defendant and arguments from the attorneys, Judge Steve Duskie sentenced Lawrence to 10 years of deferred adjudication probation.
Lawrence, a career soldier who was diagnosed last year with post-traumatic stress disorder, will be required to continue with his mental health treatment. He also will have to serve 90 days in Bell County Jail, with 30 days on weekends and 60 days on the county’s work release program. Duskie also ordered that 100 of the 350 required community service hours be spent assisting veterans.
Lawrence was arrested after a standoff with Killeen police in the 4200 block of Corrine Drive on Feb. 17, 2020. Police said he had “numerous” firearms, including two assault-style rifles, inside the home.
The incident began when police responded to a verbal domestic incident in the southwest Killeen neighborhood.
After entering the house, an officer said that a man, later identified as Lawrence, walked around a corner with an AR-15 style rifle with a 30-round magazine, according to the arrest affidavit.
An officer said Lawrence pointed the weapon at her.
Police said Lawrence refused to lower his weapon, even after officers identified themselves, and pointed it at other officers who attempted to assist in the situation. Other occupants of the house were able to leave the house without incident and Lawrence later was arrested when he exited the home.
Testimony and arguments center on PTSD
The specter of PTSD was raised repeatedly during Lawrence’s testimony and attorneys’ arguments.
“If you look at his military history, he’s been through things that most people never will in their lives: He’s chosen a dangerous line of work, with four combat deployments,” said Steve Walden, Lawrence’s defense attorney, in his closing arguments. “He’s working with trained professionals to be able to cope and to deal with his triggers and stresses so that something like this will never happen again.”
Walden asked the judge to consider a term of deferred adjudication probation.
“Prison time should be reserved for people who cannot be rehabilitated,” he said. “No justice will be served by Mr. Lawrence in confinement, but let’s make sure this soldier can get rehabilitated for what he endured during his military service.”
The state’s prosecutor was sensitive to Lawrence’s PTSD, but he argued that the incident was so serious that Lawrence should have to spend 10 years in prison.
“It’s totally unacceptable and outrageous. He pointed the AR-15 at officers repeatedly, with his wife as in the line of fire and a young child in the house,” said Assistant District Attorney James Winters. “He quickly realized that the people in his house were police officers, but he told them that they were going to have to kill him. I’m empathetic to his mental health issues but you cannot commit aggravated assault with deadly weapon against a peace officer and create a situation that could have resulted in the death of an officer, Lawrence or a family member.”
During his testimony, Lawrence apologized to the officers who were involved.
“I could tell they hadn’t ever had guns pointed at them in their life because they were shaking,” Lawrence said. “I’m so sorry.”
Prior to incident, Lawrence said that he had sought mental health treatment within the Army after having nightmares and trouble sleeping. He was diagnosed with PTSD and inpatient treatment was recommended but he did not go to treatment because of his unit’s training cycles.
Days after the incident, he received a month of inpatient mental health care.
“I got a better understanding of PTSD and how it affects behavior and remaps the brain,” Lawrence said. “I’ve learned techniques to pull myself out of Baghdad and into Killeen.”
He told the judge that he joined the Army after 9/11 and now is nearing retirement eligibility.