An Anaconda man accused of shooting a rifle several times inside an SUV while his girlfriend was driving pleaded guilty to a felony assault charge Wednesday and can avoid prison time if he follows probation conditions.
But District Judge Robert Whelan told 40-year-old Jason Stigen that if he violated any terms of a three-year deferred sentence, he could face the maximum penalty for assault with a weapon — 20 years in the Montana State Prison.
“If you step out of line, there is a big hammer hanging over your head,” Whelan said.
Prosecutor Kelli Fivey recommended the deferred sentence, saying Stigen had no prior felony convictions and had caused apprehension, but not actual injury, with the rifle.
She also said the victim had requested a more lenient sentence than the one imposed Wednesday, and Stigen faced years in prison if he violated probation.
According to charging documents, police went to the frontage road off Interstate 90 near the Ramsay exit on Aug. 31, 2020, on a report of man and woman fighting in a parked Suburban. When an officer got there, a woman got out of the passenger side holding a .22-caliber rifle.
She was extremely upset and crying, dropped the rifle at the officer’s command and Stigen, who was in the driver’s seat, was cuffed.
She said Stigen was in the passenger seat as they headed toward Anaconda, had been drinking all day and became agitated. He took the rifle and fired several shots through the windshield, the floorboard and then shot the side mirrors, she said.
She said he threatened to kill her and after telling her to pull over, he got behind the wheel and started punching her in the head.
In pleading guilty to assault with a weapon, Stigen admitted his actions caused the victim to fear serious bodily harm. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dropped a misdemeanor charge of partner-family member assault.
Stigen’s attorney, Jamie Upham, said her client had addressed his alcohol addiction, was getting counseling for mental health issues and had taken responsibility.
“He frequently refers to this as the worst day of his life,” she said, adding that “he does understand the gravity of what happened that day.”