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Alleged gang knifing leads to deferred sentence

| September 20, 2006 12:00 AM

An 18-year-old Libby man who pleaded guilty to felony charges stemming from an alleged dispute between two rival "gangs" was sentenced Monday to three years probation.

Derrick James Mitchell pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon and intimidation in exchange for a recommendation from the county attorney's office for a three-year deferred imposition of sentence and the dismissal of a misdemeanor count of being a minor in possession of alcohol.

The charges against Mitchell contended he "knowingly stuck or poked" a 15-year-old boy with a knife on April 28. At the time of his arrest, Mitchell was charged with attempted deliberate homicide, but the charges were amended to reflect the relatively minor injuries suffered by the victim.

According to court documents, Mitchell and his juvenile victims were members of rival "gangs" that had been involved in a spate of graffiti vandalism around the Libby area. Mitchell allegedly accused the victim of being a "snitch," threatened the boy and his family, pushed him into a wall and fence, spit in his face and slapped him before assaulting him with a knife. The boy suffered eight superficial puncture wounds to the chest and abdomen.

In handing down the sentence on Monday, District Judge Michael Prezeau noted Mitchell's young age and the fact that his prior criminal history was limited to three charges of being a minor in possession of alcohol.

"I suppose that's the reason that this sentence is recommended here, and I guess that's the reason that I'm going to go along with it," Prezeau told Mitchell. "But I want to tell you that I'm not happy with it, and you need to know that I don't have much patience for this stuff."

Prezeau explained to Mitchell that if he violates probation, he can be "hauled back into court" and sentenced to up to 30 years in prison.

Prezeau told Mitchell he doesn't know the extent of the "alleged gang activity" around Libby, "but as far as your participation in this nonsense, it had better come to a screeching halt right now."