City man sentenced for assault on officer

Judge urges Weakland to seek a brighter future

HOLLIDAYSBURG — An Altoona man with a lengthy criminal history was sentenced Tuesday to a state correctional institution for 24 to 48 months on charges he assaulted and threatened a UPMC Altoona police officer after becoming agitated while being treated in the emergency room.

Blair County Senior Judge Jolene G. Kopriva told the defendant, Joseph F. Weakland, 40, “This is where the rubber hits the road.”

She told Weakland he can’t do anything about his past — which includes 17 prior convictions for crimes such as burglary, drug violations, assaults and recklessly endangering — but, she said, he could, starting now, make his future a bit brighter.

In her sentencing order, Kopriva recommended the state correctional institution address Weakland’s history of drug violations and his recent mental health diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Weakland admitted that he was “not in the right frame of mind” on April 29, 2017, when he went to UPMC because he was in pain from injuries suffered in a traffic accident earlier in that year.

The accident occurred following a domestic dispute.

An emergency room physician attempting to address Weakland’s medical issues noticed he was becoming agitated, possibly becoming a threat to himself or others, and she requested help from the hospital police department.

Weakland was standing by a bed in the emergency room, and when an officer asked him to sit on the bed, Weakland’s agitation grew, according to testimony in his June trial.

The officer, Christopher Tirpak, testified that Weakland “took a bladed stance” and drew back his fist. The officer responded, striking Weakland’s nose.

Weakland uttered threats to kill the officer, and those threats continued into the next day, according to Blair County Assistant District Attorney Derek Elensky.

A jury found Weakland guilty of aggravated assault and terroristic threats, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and harassment, but not guilty of simple assault.

On Tuesday, Elensky asked the judge to impose consecutive sentences for aggravated assault and terroristic threats. He stated Weakland was a danger to society.

“This was one trial and one instance,” replied the attorney for the defense, Scott N. Pletcher, who asked the judge to make the sentences concurrent (to be served at the same time) and that they be within the low range of the state sentencing guidelines.

Kopriva imposed concurrent sentences of 24 to 48 months for the aggravated assault and terroristic threats, and a six- to 12-month concurrent sentence for resisting arrest.

She imposed no additional sentences on the disorderly conduct and harassment charges.

During her sentence, Kopriva emphasized that Weakland was at a point in his life where he should ask questions about his past behavior and seek a brighter future.

She pointed out that he recently began counseling. She noted, after his address to the court, that he took responsibility what occurred, both positive steps.

Weakland told the judge, he “was exhausted now” and wanted to change.

The judge remembered a case she presided over in which a man was sent to a state correctional institution for five years, but when he came out, he had changed to the point where he remained clean and sober since, despite many frustrations in his life.

She urged Weakland to do the same.

“You can do it if you are willing to work hard,” she told him.

The state sentence imposed by Kopriva, however, may be just the beginning of prison for Weakland.

He faces another sentencing today stemming from the domestic dispute that led to his accident, and he still must face additional charges, including retaliation against a witness, a firearm violation and a drug offense.

Weakland complained at the beginning of his sentencing hearing he didn’t know why he was being brought to court Tuesday, relating he didn’t find out it was a sentencing until he arrived at a courthouse holding cell.

The judge responded he was told following the jury’s verdicts he would be sentenced Aug. 13.

“Cool. Let’s go,” he said, loudly slapping his hands together.