A retired U.S. Navy service member took off his medal-adorned uniform Tuesday in a San Diego courtroom after he was sentenced on assault charges.
Jerome Sanders appeared at his sentencing in full uniform. After learning his fate – a 45-day jail sentence for punching a woman on the streets of downtown San Diego – he removed his jacket. He was then handcuffed.
Sanders pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts including assault and battery in an attack on victim Jessica Cox. Prosecutors with the San Diego City Attorney’s Office had asked for a 120-day sentence; Sanders received less than half of that.
Sanders punched Cox in the face on March 4 during a tense encounter in front of a 7-Eleven store near Sixth Avenue and C Street. Cox had confronted Sanders after she saw him assaulting another woman.
Cox threatened to call the police on Sanders and, in that moment, he turned around and punched her. The assault was captured on cellphone video.
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Superior Court of San Diego County Judge Carlos Varela called the attack “disturbing” and said what happened to Cox was “a nightmare.”
Immediately after the assault, Sanders fled. San Diego police released the video to the public in hopes of tracking down the assault suspect. A few weeks later, investigators identified the suspect as Sanders and charged him with assault.
Sanders’ then-fiancée and now wife, Joanne Martinez, was also charged in the case and sentenced to probation for lying to police.
Cox spoke in open court prior to Tuesday’s sentencing, telling the judge she intervened after seeing Sanders assaulting a woman who appeared to be in her 60s.
“I said, ‘You cannot hit a woman. He goes, ‘OK, I’ll hit you.’ Boom. Boom,” she recalled.
Cox also criticized Sanders for wearing his U.S. Navy uniform to court.
“He’s now wearing his uniform trying to come off as if he’s a better man than what he is,” Cox told the courtroom. “That’s unfortunate to the uniform he’s wearing, because he’s not.”
Prior to learning his sentence, Sanders turned toward Cox to apologize.
“I’d just like to say I’m sorry,” he told her. “I don’t know what happened; I didn’t find out until I saw the video. I turned myself in as soon as I found out about it.”
Prosecutor Mark Skeels called the case unusually violent.
He presented a picture of Cox showing a dark bruise under her left eye. But the extent of her injuries did not meet that standard of potential felony charges.
NBC 7 followed Cox’s story after the attack. Her eye was bruised, black and blue from her nose to her cheekbone, but no bones were broken.
“It’s a miracle she didn’t fracture her orbital socket or sustain permanent damage to her eye,” said Skeels.
Sanders’ attorney, Troy Owens, said the retired Navy servicemember was diagnosed with PTSD, and honorably discharged in 2018 with a service-related disability. He blamed a recent increase in prescribed medication as another reason behind the attack.
“There is anxiety. There are night tremors; there are nightmares. There are substance abuse issues all as a result of his service to our country,” Owens said.
A judge acknowledged several letters written on Sanders’ behalf. A psychologist said Sanders sought out services nine months before leaving the service.
In addition to the 45 days behind bars, Varela sentenced Sanders to three years probation.
Before leaving court, Cox walked up to Sanders and had one more thing to say to her attacker.
“I hope you get the help you need,” she told him.