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La Crosse man sentenced to 2½ years for shooting outside downtown bar

La Crosse man sentenced to 2½ years for shooting outside downtown bar

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Robert Powell mug


MADISON — A La Crosse man who fired a handgun into the air outside of a Third Street bar last summer was sentenced Thursday in federal court to 2½ years in prison for unlawful transporting a firearm.

Robert J. Powell IV fired the shot because he was startled by seeing a man, back on the street on bond, who had shot him in December 2018, his attorney, Ericka Bierma said.

“It was like a PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) response,” said Bierma, who asked for a three-year sentence.

Powell, 29, said he was “just reacting,” and was afraid of getting shot again.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rita Rumbelow asked for a sentence within the advisory federal guidelines which, in Powell’s case, ranged between 46 and 57 months.

A video of the shooting showed that, although Powell didn’t point the gun at anyone, “lots of people and cars were present,” and the shot Powell fired still posed a risk to them, Rumbelow said.

“Being intoxicated doesn’t negate his intent or minimize his conduct. Also, the gun hasn’t been recovered adding to the danger to the public,” she said.

Bierma asked for leniency, saying Powell’s past drug offenses were relatively minor, he hadn’t ever been incarcerated for more than nine months and a sentence of four years or more wasn’t the type of progressive punishment that defendants should receive.

Powell’s life “went off the tracks” after his parents’ divorce, she said. Although he attended college and played basketball, his need for drug treatment now is critical, Bierma said.

District Judge James Peterson asked Powell what led to his being shot about two years ago.

“Just hanging with the wrong people. There was a big argument, which led to a big fight and a man shot into the crowd at me and another man,” Powell answered.

Peterson rejected Powell’s “just reacting” explanation for firing the shot, saying that he first had to react and get the gun.

“This wasn’t an instantaneous bad decision. Deciding to shoot up the street wasn’t a responsible decision and the people you chose to associate with wasn’t responsible behavior,” the judge said.

“You act like a teenager and your decisions lack maturity,” Peterson said.

Despite playing for the La Crosse Showtime basketball team and volunteering for youth basketball programs, Peterson called Powell a “train wreck” as a citizen and as a boyfriend to a woman with whom he has two young children.

Although Peterson said he had concerns about Powell’s future, he was giving him “a break” with a sentence of 2.5 years instead of four or more because it “may get you to change your life.”

Powell’s sentence is to be followed by three years’ supervised release.

Peterson ordered Powell’s federal sentence run concurrent to any sentence he may receive if convicted in La Crosse County on pending charges of Felon in Possession of a Firearm and Dangerous Use of a Weapon.


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