Judge sentences former deputy to 30 days jail in double assault

Published 5:41 pm Saturday, July 11, 2015

Ainsworth Graphic
A former Carter County deputy will serve 30 days in jail and three years on probation after being convicted of two counts of aggravated assault in what a judge referred to as “violent” attacks on his ex-girlfriend and a neighbor who attempted to help her.
In May, a jury convicted Matthew Ward Ainsworth, 27, of Elizabethton, of one count of aggravated assault by strangulation on his ex-girlfriend Susan Olive and one count of aggravated assault by serious bodily injury on her neighbor Dennis Bennett. A third count of aggravated assault, this one also against Olive from a separate incident, was dismissed from prosecution by the state.
Ainsworth was a deputy at the Carter County Sheriff’s department at the time but was not on duty when the attacks occurred.
During the trial, Olive testified that on the morning of Oct. 6, 2013, Ainsworth forced his way into her apartment, knocked her down on the floor and then began hitting her and choking her. Sometime later, Olive said she was able to get away and ran to Bennett’s home for help.
While his wife, Tina Bennett, stood with Olive, Dennis Bennett said he went to the parking lot to get the tag number for Ainsworth’s vehicle and was jumped from behind and knocked unconscious. Both Tina Bennett and Olive told the jury they saw Ainsworth hitting Dennis Bennett while he lay facedown on the ground.
During his testimony, Ainsworth denied hitting Olive but said he hit Dennis Bennett twice in self-defense.
Ainsworth appeared in Criminal Court on Friday before Judge Stacy Street for a sentencing hearing on those two convictions. Under state law, aggravated assault is a Class C felony and can carry a sentence ranging from three to six years.
As part of the sentencing hearing, both Olive and Bennett testified about how the assaults affected them and the problems they still have.
“I have more problems breathing now,” Bennett said, adding he now must sleep with a CPAP breathing machine at night. Bennett said he also suffers from confusion and some memory loss issues since he was assaulted.
The effects of the attack against him extend to beyond the physical symptoms Bennett suffers, he said it has also affected his family.
“I had to get up the other night to help one of my neighbors,” Bennet said. “My son panicked when I got up to leave when he heard me going outside,” he said, adding his son feared he would be attacked again.
Olive said she too has suffered from lingering effects including pain and emotional distress.
“I still have nightmares,” she said.
Following the attack, Olive spent four months attending counseling to try to recover from what happened to her.
As she sat on the witness stand Friday, reading from a prepared statement, Olive’s voice trembled as she recalled what happened to her during those early morning hours.
“I laid there and tried to make peace with God because I thought I was going to die,” she said.
Because Ainsworth had no prior criminal convictions, his attorney Jim Bowman said Ainsworth was eligible for judicial diversion. If granted by the court, judicial diversion could have removed the felony convictions from Ainsworth’s record if he successfully completed probation and any conditions set by the court.
Assistant District Attorney Ryan Curtis opposed granting judicial diversion to Ainsworth.
“Mr. Ainsworth is eligible for diversion, but he is not worthy of it,” Curtis said.
During the sentencing hearing both the prosecution and defense mentioned Ainsworth’s position as a law enforcement officer at the time of the attacks as well as his military service and whether that should way in his favor or cause him to be held to a higher standard. Ultimately, Street made the call on how his professions would be considered.
“All the things that make Mr. Ainsworth a good citizen would also elevate him to a platform where he should have known better,” Street said. “When it comes to matters of breaking the law, I think it is appropriate to hold police officers to a higher standard.”
“It just gives everyone involved in this system a black eye when cops, lawyers, probation officers or court clerks break the law,” Street added. “Great responsibility comes along with the position you held.”
Street denied Ainsworth’s request for judicial diversion and also denied his request for alternative sentencing by granting full probation.
“The court finds a sentence of full probation would unduly depreciate the seriousness of this offense,” Street said. “There has to be some punishment in this case because of what you did to these two people, especially in light of your profession.”
Street ordered Ainsworth to serve a split confinement sentence of 30 days in jail followed by 3 years of probation through the Tennessee Department of Correction’s Board of Probation and Parole. Ainsworth is scheduled to report to serve his jail time on July 27 at 9 a.m.
Because he is a former deputy of the Carter County Sheriff’s Department, Ainsworth will not serve his time at the Carter County Detention Center. Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford told the court he would arrange for Ainsworth to be held at another county jail in the area.

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