DANVERS — A Rockport man with a history of violence against police officers will spend the next 18 months on probation, after admitting to punching one officer and kicking three others during a confrontation outside a Liberty Tree Mall restaurant last December.
But over the objections of a prosecutor, Salem District Court Judge Shelley Joseph granted Michael Crawford's request to continue three felony charges without a finding, sparing him a felony conviction.
"The behavior you showed toward these officers is inexcusable," Joseph told Crawford, 42, of 16 Jewett St., Rockport. She imposed guilty findings and suspended 18-month jail terms on four counts of assault and battery on a police officer, resisting arrest and malicious destruction of property, all misdemeanors.
However, she agreed to continue three counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, the shoes Crawford was wearing when he kicked the officers, without a finding for 18 months, to prevent him from having a felony conviction on his record.
"I don't want to prevent you from working," Joseph told Crawford, who works at Michael's Crafts.
Crawford's lawyer, Paul Moraski, said the store does regular background checks and a felony would likely cause the store — where two managers submitted letters of support for Crawford to the court — to fire him.
Prosecutor Matt Schreiber sharply opposed another continuation without a finding for Crawford, who has already had the benefit of past continuations without a finding on at least four prior occasions.
Among those prior cases: a 2014 incident in Brookline in which Crawford took a swing at an officer, bit another officer, kicked another and elbowed another, the Brookline Tab reported. The newspaper reported that Crawford was suspected of being drunk at the time.
'Violent' reaction to police
Schreiber told the judge that Crawford was also drunk back on Dec. 5 when the manager of Buffalo Wild Wings at the Liberty Tree Mall called police about a man who had been repeatedly asked to leave.
Police caught up with Crawford in the parking lot as he walked to his car.
As Patrolman Scott Frost attempted to stop him from getting into a car and instead put him into protective custody, Crawford began flailing his arms and yelling about the First Amendment, Schreiber said.
Crawford punched Frost in the face, then kicked Patrolman Michael Molk in the chest.
Frost and Molk attempted to subdue Crawford with pepper spray and then with a baton, to little avail.
As more officers arrived to the parking lot of the mall, crowded with holiday shoppers, Crawford was still flailing.
As Sgt. Peter Shabowich and Patrolman Patrick Ambrose Jr. were trying to put him into a police cruiser, Crawford kicked both in the legs.
Crawford also spit at Patrolmen Jarod Waterman and Steven MacDonald as they tried to book him, and yelled expletives at the officers.
During a hearing in Salem District Court on Tuesday, Schreiber asked the judge to impose guilty findings on all of the charges, saying that Crawford has already been given many chances to keep his record clean, only to violate probation in each of the cases.
He said Crawford's "incredibly violent" reaction to police officers warrants a conviction at this point.
'Alcohol is an issue'
Moraski, however, said his client struggles with alcoholism. In the weeks before the incident last December, he said, Crawford had run out of Antabuse, a drug used to treat alcoholism that Crawford had been taking for almost a year.
Without the drug, Moraski said, Crawford began drinking again.
Moraski also said Crawford had been enraged by a political discussion inside the restaurant.
Joseph said the prosecutor's request for guilty findings on all of the counts but no committed jail time was "kind," given four prior continuations without a finding.
Besides the Brookline incident, in 2015, Crawford had a continuation without a finding on a drunken driving charge in Gloucester. He had also been charged with resisting arrest in that incident.
In 2016, Crawford was again arrested by Gloucester police after being called by a marina and the Gloucester Cinema, where he was drunkenly harassing patrons, the Gloucester Daily Times reported. When police arrived, Crawford called the officers "bozos" and took a fighting stance against them, then struggled as they put him into custody.
"Clearly, alcohol is an issue," said Joseph. "What is Mr. Crawford going to do to control his issues?"
Moraski offered to have Crawford, who had relied solely on medication, join Alcoholics Anonymous.
Joseph ordered Crawford to undergo an alcohol evaluation, wear a monitor that will require him to submit to random alcohol tests, and take an anger management class as conditions of his probation.
"I think it's good that you're employed," Joseph told Crawford. "I know it's hard ... when you have a felony conviction."
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.