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Butte man gets 10 years in prison for assaulting Town Pump clerk

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Robert Matthew Berkopec

Berkopec

A Butte man who attacked a Town Pump employee and left him floored and covered in blood urged a judge on Wednesday to spare him from prison, saying it was “full of violence and hostility.”

But the judge sentenced Robert Matthew Berkopec to 10 years in the Montana State Prison anyway and said it was his own violence that put him there.

“It is an anger-management issue that clearly is a danger to society,” said District Judge Robert Whelan.

Prosecutors had talked to the Town Pump victim and were previously prepared to recommend a lighter sentence. But while that plea deal and sentencing hearing were pending, Berkopec was arrested in June for physically assaulting a woman.

He pleaded guilty to felony partner-family member assault in that case earlier Wednesday afternoon, his fourth conviction on that charge. Whelan gave him a five-year commitment to the Department of Corrections for that but it will run concurrent to the prison sentence.

Prosecutor Ann Shea said Berkopec deserved prison time this time.

“We believe the defendant, given his criminal history, has a propensity toward violence,” she said. “People get injured. He creates victims.”

According to prosecutors, a clerk at the Town Pump at 531 S. Montana St. had apparently upset a woman customer on Aug. 15, 2020 by saying she had a new coffee cup so she could not get it for a “refill” price.

The woman paid for the coffee but yelled at him and a short time later, Berkopec ran toward the clerk saying he made his girlfriend cry. Before the clerk could respond, Berkopec “rushed him and slammed him into the manager office door.”

Berkopec struck him several times in the face and head with his fists before taking off, according to charging documents. A business manager was inside an office in the store at the time.

When she came out, she saw the clerk “laying on the ground covered in blood and unknown male was running out of the business,” charging documents state. He was treated for his injuries.

Police tracked down Berkopec and he admitting hitting the clerk.

“Berkopec stated he knew he was wrong but said that his girlfriend … had come out of the store crying and his maternal instincts got the best of him,” prosecutors said.

Prosecutors initially charged Berkopec with aggravated burglary, which carries a 40-year maximum prison sentence, but in a plea deal reduced it to criminal endangerment with a 10-year maximum.

Prosecutors were going to recommend that Berkopec be sentenced to 10 years in custody of the Montana Department of Corrections, with five of those years suspended. Such DOC commitments often result in offenders being sent to corrections treatment programs instead of prison.

Prosecutors changed their recommendation after they charged Berkopec for assaulting a woman during a domestic dispute on June 5, which he admitted and pleaded guilty to on Wednesday.

His public defender, Walter Hennessey, argued Wednesday for a DOC commitment instead of prison, saying it offered a better chance for rehabilitation. Berkopec asked for that too.

“I need help with my anger,” he said, adding that he had a 4-year-old son who needed a dad.

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