- By Mark Gokavi Staff Writer
A judge on Wednesday said ex-Phillipsburg police officer Justin Sanderson, convicted of kidnapping and raping four women, disgraced his profession even as Sanderson continued to proclaim his innocence.
“This case represents this court’s darkest voyage yet into man’s inhumanity to man,” said Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Steven Dankof, paraphrasing a plaque from his office.
“The defendant also victimized the good and the decent officers who leave home every day to serve and protect and defend knowing they might not come home from their watch.”
Dankof sentenced Sanderson to 43 years in prison for 19 counts including rape and kidnapping against four women during three incidents in May and June 2017 while he was in uniform and on duty for the small village about 22 miles northwest of Dayton.
“I’m a man who cares about people. I always have been,” Sanderson told Dankof as some victims gasped. “I believe I remain innocent to any crimes.”
Dankof, who found the defendant guilty during a bench trial, said the first 33 years of Sanderson’s sentence are mandatory. Montgomery County prosecutors had asked for the maximum 89 years. Dankof ordered Sanderson to pay court costs and said the ex-officer had earned 384 days of jail-time credit.
“His comments, as much as the number of years he handed out, go a long way to speaking to these victims who were scared to come out, scared to come forward and to the community who has been rocked by this … betrayal of trust,” said Montgomery County assistant prosecutor Kelly Madzey.
Three of the four victims made brief statements in court, one tearfully telling Dankof, “I wanted to thank you, as the judge, for believing our … accusations.”
After sentencing, that victim added, “I definitely feel like the punishment fits the crime.” Another victim said she had been suicidal and is afraid of police officers.
This news organization is not naming the women because they are victims of sexual assault.
In two incidents, Sanderson took women into custody and transported them back to the dark and empty Phillipsburg offices and sexually assaulted them, according to prosecutors. In one case, Sanderson’s and a woman’s DNA remained on the carpet in a conference room.
In another incident, Sanderson met with two women he found in website ads and entered a Poe Avenue hotel room with a master key he got from a manager. He left briefly, then came back and raped the prostitutes, Dankof found.
Defense attorney Anthony VanNoy declined comment after sentencing except to say a notice of appeal would be filed.
During the hearing, VanNoy said, “It’s unfortunate that the sum total of a man, at times, can be captured in a span of few months (of) perhaps very, very poor conduct, outrageous conduct.”
In a sentencing memo, VanNoy said Sanderson had been sexually assaulted as a boy, was put in foster care, adopted into a single-parent home and separated from his brother.
A prosecutor’s memorandum said Sanderson’s sentencing range was from 23 to 89 years and they advocated for the maximum. Two defendants also have filed civil suits against Sanderson, the village of Phillipsburg and police Chief Mark Wysong.
“This defendant used his authority as a police officer to force four victims into sexual activity,” Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. said. “His actions were reprehensible and disturbing. Not only will he never be in a position of authority in the future, but he will be unable to victimize anyone else.”