Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Libby man sentenced in Xbox assault case

The Western News | July 29, 2022 7:00 AM

A Libby man accused of choking his wife during a fight over a birthday gift for her son was sentenced on Monday in Lincoln County District Court.

John Travis Byrd, 45, received a five-year suspended sentence from Judge Matt Cuffe. He was also ordered to pay $2,015.03 in restitution. Byrd received credit for time served of 15 days. He is not in custody.

Lincoln County Attorney Marcia Boris and public defender Keenan Gallagher both recommended a five-year suspended sentence.

Byrd, appearing with Gallagher, initially was opposed to paying restitution before changing his mind.

Boris questioned Byrd about his finances. He said he had about $2,700 in the bank and made approximately $2,400-2,500 a month, but that it fluctuated during the winter months. He also said he paid $400 per month in child support.

Byrd, who is employed with a local contractor, said he would pay any fines and restitution. He also expressed regret about the incident.

“My life has turned around,” Byrd said. “I’m in AA and counseling and I feel really bad for it.”

The victim in the incident, Byrd’s now ex-wife, requested and received a non-expiring order of protection on June 28. He is not allowed to have contact with her, her three children and several of her friends.

In a request for the order of protection, she wrote that “she is fearful of him because he was making contact with her after a being ordered not to in a court order.” She also wrote that she is scared he will attempt to physically harm “me, my children and or friends.”

Byrd entered a guilty plea to an amended charge of criminal endangerment on June 6. He originally faced strangulation, assault and tampering charges.

Byrd was arrested on Oct. 22, 2021, after authorities responded to a domestic disturbance call on U.S. 2.

In the charging document, Deputy Derek Breiland of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office recounted meeting a distraught and shaking woman about 7:59 p.m.

“[She] was physically shaking, and her voice was trembling and she was crying,” he wrote. “It was apparent that [she] was in distress over what had happened.”

The woman told Breiland that her husband got upset over an Xbox gaming console she bought for her son. When she returned from dropping her son off at the roller rink earlier in the evening, Byrd began yelling, court documents said. He told her to get out of the house, she recounted.

Eventually, Byrd grabbed the video game system from her vehicle and toted it to the rear of the property. He began smashing it, court documents said. When she tried to intervene, he took hold of both ends of her scarf and pulled it tight around her neck.

The woman tried to get away, to no avail, according to the affidavit. Eventually, she got the scarf over her head, which was when Byrd began “clawing at her sweater,” Breiland wrote in the affidavit. The woman produced a “torn and damaged” sweater as evidence, court documents said.

After getting free, she ran back into the house. In the affidavit, Breiland wrote that none of the children in the household witnessed the incident. The woman suffered a bit of reddening around her neck, he reported. Still, she told investigators that Byrd did not impede her breathing during the alleged assault.

Following the confrontation, Byrd finished smashing the Xbox against rocks in the couple’s backyard. He tried to reenter the home, but found the front door locked, the victim told Breiland. He then left, wearing only flip-flops, shorts and a tank top.

Breiland asked her if Byrd had a history of violent behavior toward her, which she denied. Still, with local law enforcement unable to track Byrd down, they encouraged his wife and her children to stay with a friend for the evening. They told her to contact them if Byrd attempted any communication, Breiland recalled.

After another unsuccessful search for Byrd, Breiland and the remaining law enforcement officers returned to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. That’s when the victim called and reported receiving text messages from Byrd.

In them, Byrd allegedly asked about her calling the authorities and told her “I got my pistol loaded.” According to court documents, he later wrote that he was not getting jailed for assault and asked that she “call off” law enforcement. At one point, he instructed her to tell law enforcement officers to stop pursuing charges against him.

Eventually, Byrd called the sheriff’s office and spoke with Breiland. In the affidavit, the deputy recounted asking Byrd for an explanation of what happened. Byrd allegedly told him that he “might have burnt an Xbox One, and [defended] myself from the wife hitting me.” In Byrd’s version, his wife attacked him and he blocked her, court documents said.

When Breiland pointed out that objecting to the destruction of the gaming console was not an attack, Byrd reported suffering a cut to his lip during the exchange. He denied assaulting his wife, saying that he held her back, grabbed her shirt and later her scarf, but that she ran away, according to court documents.

Byrd invited Breiland out to inspect his injured lip, court documents said. Breiland turned him down on the offer.

“Byrd at first told dispatch that he didn’t want law enforcement at his house and I saw the text on [his wife’s] phone that stated Byrd had a pistol loaded,” Breiland wrote. “I did not tell Byrd I saw that message, but it played a role in me not going back to the residence. There was no exigency at that time as [his wife] and her children were safe.”

Byrd allegedly told Breiland that he hid from responding law enforcement in the woods, fearing he would end up in jail that night on what he described as a false accusation. He again invited Breiland over as long as the deputy promised not to arrest him. Breiland, writing in the affidavit, said that he could not make that pledge.

The conversation grew increasingly confused, Breiland recalled. He suspected that Byrd was intoxicated as several of his statements were nonsensical, according to the affidavit. Eventually, Breiland agreed to try and set up a time to come by and photograph the busted lip. In his account, Breiland said the meeting never occurred. Byrd allegedly ignored multiple phone calls over the following days.

On Oct. 24, Breiland spoke with Byrd’s wife again. She was planning on returning to the couple’s home to retrieve several items, according to court documents. But she ended up in the emergency room seeking treatment for pain from her injuries, court documents said.

Breiland wrote that she suffered an injury to the larynx, a bruise on her arm and strain in her sternum and chest wall. She provided him with copies of the medical records she received during her visit to the ER.

“[She] was persistent the night we went to this disturbance that she didn’t want to go to the ER because she was a nurse and she would know if she needed to go,” Breiland wrote. “The fact that [she] went to the ER on [Oct. 24] shows me that she must have been in serious pain or discomfort.”