WINCHESTER — Scott Bradley Garthwaite fired 19 shots at police before being wounded in a 2018 suicide-by-cop attempt, but his lawyer said he wasn’t trying to kill anyone but himself.
In a plea bargain in Winchester Circuit Court on Tuesday, Garthwaite entered an Alford plea to attempted capital murder of a police officer and pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon. In an Alford plea, a defendant doesn't admit guilt, but concedes there is enough evidence for a conviction. Alford pleas are considered convictions by the court.
Garthwaite, 50, faces three to 10 years imprisonment. He's scheduled to be sentenced at 9 a.m. Sept. 24.
Defense attorney Howard J. Manheimer said Garthwaite admits shooting at police from his apartment in the 400 block of North Loudoun Street on July 2, 2018. But he noted the shade was down on the window that Garthwaite fired 18 shots through with a .22-caliber rifle, indicating he could not see where he was aiming. After the rifle jammed, Garthwaite fired one shot at Officer Joshua Avery with a .38-caliber revolver through a door.
"He was trying to do a suicide-by-cop and this was all part of a psychological breakdown. He acknowledges that and regrets the behavior," Manheimer told Judge Brian M. Madden. "He didn't mean to try to kill Officer Avery or any other officer. He was trying to kill himself. It's a sad situation."
Suicide-by-cop incidents involve suicidal people trying to provoke police into shooting them. Of the approximately 1,000 annual line-of-duty killings by police nationally, roughly 10% to 30% involve suicide-by-cop scenarios, according to the Police Executive Research Forum, a policing think tank that analyzed Washington Post database statistics.
After Garthwaite shot at Avery, Officer Alexandria M. Warren, who had been pinned down on the front porch by gunfire, fired four times through the apartment window with her .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol. Garthwaite was struck once in the right leg, ending the incident.
The incident began at 4:48 a.m. with a 911 call from Garthwaite asking officers to come to his home due to a mental breakdown. Marc H. Abrams, Winchester commonwealth's attorney, told Madden that Garthwaite was evasive about whether he was armed and refused police requests to exit the apartment. Abrams said the apartment building was evacuated by police before the shooting, which was why a shooting from an occupied building charge was dismissed as part of the agreement.
Abrams said Garthwaite asked officers to approach the apartment and show identification. "Here goes my life," Garthwaite said in the 911 call before opening fire around 5:20 a.m., according to police. He fired four to six shots through his front apartment window in the first volley of shots. One bullet struck a parked car that Sgt. Justin Schumer, who had been negotiating with Garthwaite, was hiding behind. The second volley occurred a few minutes later.
A blood test of Garthwaite taken after the shooting found he had a blood alcohol content of 0.37 — more than four times the legal driving limit of 0.08. According to a mental evaluation that found Garthwaite competent to be prosecuted, he told a psychologist that he was drinking 15 to 20 shots of alcohol in the days leading up to the shooting. He said he had stopped taking medication for depression and hallucinations he was experiencing.