Benton Harbor man gets prison time for sexual assault, fleeing police

Published 1:24 pm Tuesday, February 6, 2024

NILES — A Benton Harbor man who assaulted a woman, crashed into another car and fled police in Niles last year was sentenced to prison Monday in Berrien County Trial Court.

Tobias Joseph Johnson, 36, of Benton Harbor, pleaded guilty to three felony charges and was sentenced to three concurrent prison terms. The prison terms will be consecutive to any sentence he receives from violating his parole from 2016 and 2017 convictions for drugs and weapons.

Johnson pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct-penetration and was sentenced to 78 months to 10 years in prison. He must pay $198 in fines and costs and has credit for no time served as he was on parole at the time of the incident. He must register as a sex offender and be on the sex offender registry for the rest of his life.

He pleaded guilty to second degree fleeing and eluding police and was sentenced to 78 months to 10 years in prison with no credit for time served. He must pay $198 in fines and costs.

He pleaded guilty to assault with a dangerous weapon and was sentenced to 29 months to four years in prison. He has no credit for time served and must pay $198 in fines and costs.

The incident occurred July 13, 2023 in Niles when he assaulted a woman, crashed into another car and fled police. He reached speeds of over 100 miles per hour in fleeing police, cut off other cars in traffic and caused a teen to be knocked off his bicycle.

Berrien County Assistant Prosecutor Jerry Vigansky recommended a sentence at the top end of the guidelines because of Johnson’s past record and the danger he put others in with his actions. “He’s not safe in society, he does what he wants,” he said.

Defense attorney Carri Briseno said Johnson has been in jail or prison for all but three years of his adult life. She noted that he has sought out psychiatric help during his current stint in jail, is attending Bible study and has gotten his GED. “He knows he has to stop or he will spend the rest of his life in prison,” she said.

Johnson said there is no excuse for his actions but vowed that he has changed and wants to turn his life around. He said he’s given his life to Christ and has gotten psychiatric help.

“I hope that it ultimately helps you when you get released so you don’t commit new crimes,” Judge Smith said. “But right now you are a danger to society.”

“This fleeing and eluding might take the cake in what I’ve seen over the years,” she added. “It had everything short of killing someone. A teen was riding his bike, a woman and child were hit in their car. You were running stop signs when the police were chasing you. When you were boxed in, you rammed your way out.”

Judge Smith departed upwards from the sentencing guidelines which she noted are advisory only. She cited a number of reasons for her departure including his past record which she called “off the charts”, the overall incident with the danger he posed to the community and his disregard for other people’s safety.

In other sentencings:

  • Ahshonte Kavonte Henderson, 23, of Niles, pleaded guilty to aggravated domestic violence and was sentenced to 180 days in jail with credit for 15 days served and $125 in fines and costs. He also pleaded guilty to three contempt charges and was sentenced to 90 days in jail with credit for 12 days served. The incident occurred May 10, 2023 in Niles.
  • Alexis Nicole Sparks, 27, of Niles, pleaded guilty to possession of analogues and was sentenced to one year probation, credit for two days served and $658 in fines and costs. She can keep the conviction off her record if she is successful on probation. The incident occurred Oct. 25, 2023 in Niles.