Court of Appeals: Judge erred when sentencing man for shooting MSP trooper

Published 10:14 am Sunday, February 4, 2024

NILES — The Niles man in prison for shooting a Michigan State Police trooper two and a half years ago will likely be resentenced after a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling this week.

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Berrien County Trial Judge Sterling Schrock erred when he sentenced Isaac Ntabaazi to a consecutive prison term without explaining the reasons for his decision.

Ntabaazi, now 26, was convicted by a Berrien County Trial Court jury in May, 2022 of reckless, careless or negligent use of a firearm causing injury, being a felon in possession of a firearm, carrying a concealed weapon, using a firearm in the commission of a felony and resisting and obstructing police causing serious bodily impairment.

Judge Schrock sentenced Ntabaazi June, 27, 2022 to 36 months to five years in prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm, 36 months to five years in prison for carrying a concealed weapon, 16 months to two years for reckless/careless discharge, two years on each of the felony firearm counts and 100 months to 15 years on the resisting and obstructing count.

The judge ruled that not only the felony firearm but also the resisting and obstructing counts would be served consecutively. That meant that Ntabaazi was sentenced to serve two years for the felony firearms counts, followed by the three concurrent 16 months and 36 months sentences and then the 100 month to 15 year sentence.

The Court of Appeals noted that Judge Schrock exercised his discretion to make the resisting and obstructing causing serious injury consecutive rather than to all but the felony firearm sentences.

“We affirm defendant’s convictions and the individual sentences for each crime, but we vacate the ‘consecutive sentencing’ aspect of the judgment of sentence and remand the case to the trial court so that it can more fully articulate its rationale for imposing consecutive sentences,” the court stated.

The Court of Appeals did state in a footnote that “To be clear, on remand the trial court is not required to impose consecutive sentences if the court, on further reflection based on the pertinent authorities governing the issue, concludes that consecutive sentences should not be imposed.”

The 10-page unpublished opinion went through all of Ntabaazi’s appeals claiming insufficient evidence, ineffective assistance of counsel relative to jury instructions and sentencing issues and dismissed all of the appeals except for the consecutive sentencing issue.

The shooting occurred on Oct. 6, 2021 when Trooper Jason DeVries stopped the car in which Ntabaazi was a passenger near downtown Niles. DeVries was shot once in the thigh and is paralyzed from the right knee down. DeVries shot Ntabaazi twice resulting in him losing his eyesight.

At sentencing, DeVries said the incident has changed his life completely. He noted that he has always dreamed of being a trooper and had wanted to pursue special training before this incident. He said that he’s had long bouts of insomnia and agonizing pain.

“In six seconds, you took that all away,” he said. “You ruined my career and then I see your eyes and how messed up your life is. Doing something stupid ruined both of our lives.”

Ntabaazi apologized to DeVries during sentencing and said he took full responsibility for his actions. “I always wanted to be a good person,” he said. “I never felt the need to go down the road of violence. I made a very bad decision to go out that night. I’m very remorseful for my actions but I can’t take them back.”

As his sentence currently stands before any resentencing, Ntabaazi’s earlier release date from prison is Feb. 19, 2035.