Teen gets 4 years in assault of police officer

Rocco LaDuca

A city teenager told an Oneida County Court judge Tuesday that he was acting to protect his two friends when he took part in an assault on a Utica police officer last September.

“I only did it to make sure they were OK,” 17-year-old Hector McClain said as he was sentenced by Judge Michael L. Dwyer to four years in prison for second-degree assault. 

“If you care about somebody, you're going to do whatever it takes to keep them safe,” McClain said. 

Most of the Sept. 5 attack on police Officer Dzenan Sabanovic outside the James Street Market was recorded by a surveillance camera. 

In those recorded images, McClain can be seen holding Sabanovic's police baton while his friends — Darnell and Terrell Howard — appear to be throwing punches and tackling the officer in the street.

McClain pleaded guilty to the assault in February, McClain's defense attorney, Rebecca Wittman, said McClain is being sent to prison for too long, especially since McClain probably would not have acted the way he did if it wasn't for Darnell Howard's “intervention.” 

Darnell Howard, 18, faces seven years in prison when he is sentenced April 10. He was found guilty of second-degree assault, resisting arrest and criminal mischief in a trial in late February. 

The case of Darnell Howard's 14-year-old brother, Terrell, is being handled through Oneida County Family Court. 

Assistant District Attorney Doug DeMarche Jr. said Tuesday it was unfortunate McClain was being sent to prison at such a young age, but McClain still had to be held accountable for what he did. 

“Mr. McClain made some poor decisions ... in engaging in the acts that he engaged in,” DeMarche said. “There has to be consequences for that.” 

McClain acknowledged what he did was wrong. But he went on to defend his actions by saying he feared the officer was going to hurt his friends. McClain finished by promising to turn his life around as soon as he is released from prison. 

“You have to learn from your mistakes ... so we don't have to go through this ever again,” Dwyer said.