A 24-year-old La Jolla man who was wearing a Jesus costume when he sucker-punched a San Diego police officer at a Gaslamp District Halloween street festival was sentenced Thursday to 270 days in jail, which will be served on weekends.
Eric Van Vleet, who was arrested in Idaho’s Cassia County four days after the Nov. 1, 2019, attack, pleaded guilty last year to a felony count of battery on a peace officer resulting in injury.
San Diego County Superior Court Judge Melinda J. Lasater ordered that Van Vleet serve his time in county jail on 35 consecutive three-day weekends, totaling 105 days, with the rest of the time earned through custody credits. Lasater, who also imposed five years of probation, ordered that the jail term be re-evaluated and potentially modified after 15 weekends.
Deputy District Attorney Will Hopkins said San Diego Police Officer Ben Hall and his partner, Kristen Robinson, witnessed a fight break out among several people outside the Atomic bar about 1 a.m.
Hall pepper-sprayed the combatants, including one man, who punched his girlfriend after being blinded by the mace.
When Robinson went to detain the man, with Hall assisting, Hopkins said Van Vleet — who was dressed as Jesus Christ with devil horns — yelled, “(Expletive) the police” and punched the lawman in the side of the head.
He then walked away from the ruckus, disappearing into a crowd and getting into a ridesharing vehicle, and eventually left the state. According to the prosecution, surveillance footage and bar tabs helped investigators identify Van Vleet as the suspect.
Hall was taken to a hospital for treatment of a roughly inch-long laceration and other trauma. The officer missed a week of work with post-concussion symptoms, according to Hopkins.
Hall and Robinson called the incident “an ambush” at Van Vleet’s sentencing hearing, and said it left them with doubts regarding what they could or should have done differently to safeguard themselves that night.
“I don’t hold any grudges against you, but I believe in accountability,” Hall told Van Vleet at the hearing. The officer said he hoped Van Vleet’s sentence “shows that we’re protected by the same laws we enforce.”
Van Vleet tearfully apologized to Hall, Robinson and a handful of other San Diego police officers in attendance.
“I don’t want you guys to feel fear for doing what is your chosen calling, to protect the people,” he said. “I’m more than willing to be accountable for my actions.”
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