A former state prison guard convicted of pointing a loaded handgun fitted with a laser sight at a motorist during a 2014 road rage incident in Paso Robles avoided jail time and instead received probation Wednesday.
San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Roger Picquet sentenced Anthony James Behrens, 53, a former guard at Kern Valley State Prison, to three years of formal probation after Behrens was convicted by a jury Aug. 7 of brandishing a weapon at a person in a motor vehicle, a felony, and unlawful laser activity, a misdemeanor.
He also was sentenced to one day in County Jail, with credit for one day served.
Picquet rejected a Probation Department report that recommended a sentence of 180 days in jail.
Combined, the convictions could have resulted in a maximum sentence of three years in County Jail, the District Attorney’s Office said.
On July 27, 2014, Behrens was a correctional sergeant at the prison and a 17-year veteran of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation when he was riding in the backseat of a Toyota Prius driven by his 20-year-old daughter on Highway 46 East. Also in the car were his wife and 13-year-old niece.
At about 6:42 p.m., while on a three-lane stretch of highway, a Ford Expedition carrying a couple and their two children, ages 11 and 8, passed the Prius on the left and merged in front of it. The Prius, which was in the center lane, then passed the Expedition on the right and pulled in front of it as the highway converged into one lane.
The driver of the Prius then “brake-checked” the Expedition several times and the Expedition, driven by Ronald Fryer, then allegedly tailgated the Prius.
Behren’s wife began taking cell phone photos of the Expedition, and in response, Fryer’s wife began taking pictures of the Prius, according to the CHP.
At some point, Anthony Behrens pulled out a loaded .40-caliber Springfield pistol and pointed its laser sight at the Expedition.
The Fryers backed off and called the police.
CHP officers pulled the Prius over at about 7:30 p.m. and searched the car, finding the gun and a magazine containing eight rounds in Behren’s Department of Corrections-issued duffel bag.
According to a Probation Department report, Behrens said he did not have a round in the chamber of the gun and never intended to fire it.
“I really thought I was defending my family when I brandished a gun,” Behrens reportedly told CHP officers. “I am a good family man, and working in corrections I see a lot of crazy stuff, and I over-reacted.”
The deputy probation officer who wrote the report found Behrens, who had no prior criminal history, posed little risk of re-offending. However, she wrote that his conduct was “concerning.”
“This experience has introduced (Behrens) to the consequences of unlawful behavior and it is hoped he will take the court’s direction seriously and that he understands that his actions were criminal and will have applicable consequences,” the report reads.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerret Gran said following the sentencing that the prosecution wanted some jail time but respects the decision of the court.
“We did agree with the Probation Department’s recommendation of 180 days, given the use of a handgun in this case,” Gran said.
Behrens’ attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu, said Wednesday he was “extremely pleased” with the sentence.
“(Behrens) did it because he was in the presence of his wife and daughter who were scared to death they were going to be run over by the (Explorer). He knows he overreacted,” Funke-Bilu said. “You don’t put someone in jail for this momentary lapse in judgment that’s based on love.”
He said supporters sent 65 letters to the judge on Behrens’ behalf and attended the sentencing.
According to a motion filed in court, Behrens is a former prison nurse who once saved the life of a bleeding inmate. Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Sessa said Behrens resigned from the department shortly after his arrest.