‘No contest’ bid nixed; Brainard guilty
Grand Junction City Councilor Rick Brainard pleaded guilty Friday after a thwarted bid to end his domestic-violence case with something less than a guilty plea.
Brainard, 51, tried to plead “no contest” under a deal with the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office in which he would have been placed on a deferred judgment and sentence for 18 months, aside from a suspended jail sentence. Brainard sought permission to travel out-of-state.
County Court Judge Craig Henderson, however, brought Brainard’s hearing to a halt when he heard those terms outlined by Deputy District Attorney Alexa Williams.
“I will not accept a nolo contendere plea,” the judge said. “It’s guilty or not guilty.”
With that, Brainard’s attorney, Stephen Laiche, called for a roughly 10-minute break, conferred with his client, then returned to the courtroom. Brainard pleaded guilty to misdemeanor third-degree assault. A misdemeanor harassment charge was dismissed.
Brainard was sentenced by Henderson to serve an 18-month deferred judgment and sentence. He must undergo a domestic-violence evaluation and comply with all terms of treatment. Brainard’s progress over the next 18 months will be monitored through the probation office of the 21st Judicial District.
If Brainard complies with treatment and stays out of trouble over the next 18 months, he can petition the judge to erase his third-degree assault conviction.
Henderson also ordered 40 hours of useful public service.
Henderson’s courtroom was packed Friday with nearly a dozen attorneys and staff members from the District Attorney’s Office—including District Attorney Pete Hautzinger, who observed the hearing from a back-row bench—aside from another dozen people protesting Brainard’s continued presence on the City Council.
Two uniformed Mesa County Sheriff’s Department deputies also stood in the hearing room.
Per a request by Brainard’s victim, Henderson dropped the no-contact provision of a restraining order in the case. Henderson reminded Brainard that other provisions, including prohibitions against harassment and retaliation against the victim, remain in effect.
Henderson, holding up an evidence photo showing the battered and bruised face of Brainard’s victim, warned against skirting the deal or retaliating.
“This is jailable,” Henderson said, holding the woman’s photo up for the courtroom and speaking to Brainard.
“It enrages me,” the judge added. “I will do that (impose jail) to you. That’s your warning.”
Brainard faces a maximum possible two years in the Mesa County Jail if found in violation of the deferred judgment and sentence.
The victim, in speaking to the judge, said she and her children are not afraid of Brainard.
“At some point, I do deserve an apology and I would like for my children to have an apology,” she told the judge.
She called the plea agreement “fair.”
“I trust the court system,” she said.
Laiche acknowledged his client “at some point and time needs to apologize to her.”
He told the judge Brainard started sessions with a local counselor seven days after his arrest, calling Brainard a “middle-aged man looking for a job” who has “suffered extraordinarily.”
“He’s lost his job because of this,” Laiche told the judge. “This is someone who is constantly vilified for the same conduct. He’s chosen public life and this vilification is a consequence of life in the public eye.”
Brainard himself declined to address the judge, but Laiche said Brainard would answer any questions the judge might have.
“As with any domestic violence case, I want to get down to what happened here and why,” Henderson said.
Brainard offered a long pause, then said, “Umm ... I did something I never should have. It shouldn’t have happened.”
The city councilor offered no further explanation.
Sworn into office May 6 despite threats of a recall election, Brainard was vice president of operations at West Star Aviation when he was arrested April 6 at his Redlands home on suspicion of misdemeanor third-degree assault and harassment. The incident happened three days after his election to one of the City Council’s two at-large seats.
The Sentinel on April 9 reported the contents of a non-redacted arrest affidavit, which stated Brainard initially denied an altercation with his live-in girlfriend turned physical.
When confronted by an officer with details about the incident, Brainard admitted he’d grabbed her, pushed on her chest, pulled her hair and slapped her on the left side of her neck and cheek area, according to the affidavit. Brainard told the officer he slapped the woman because she needed to “shut her mouth,” the affidavit said.