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Iron Horse shooter sentenced to prison

Staff Writer | June 29, 2021 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — The Montana man who pleaded guilty to firing into a crowd outside a downtown bar last summer will spend up to 15 years in prison.

Austin L. Sherper, 25, of Whitefish, pleaded guilty in April to one count of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and seven counts of aggravated assault, all felonies.

Judge Scott Wayman sentenced Sherper on Monday to 15 years in prison on each count, with five years fixed and 10 years indeterminate, as well as credit for time served.

The sentences are to be served concurrently.

Police responded to reports of a shooting at the Iron Horse Bar & Grill around 9 p.m. on July 11, 2020.

A man later identified as Sherper had an altercation with security staff, who told him he was no longer allowed in the building.

Witnesses who were smoking outside the bar told police Sherper yelled at them as he walked past, then threatened to come back and kill them.

Sherper returned to the scene in a white truck and fired at people under an awning outside the bar.

Prosecutors said he fired 10 shots, emptying his handgun.

Two people were grazed by bullets and transported to Kootenai Health, according to court documents.

Sherper left the scene before law enforcement arrived.

Police later located him at a Coeur d’Alene residence. He surrendered to police after a standoff that lasted several hours.

Initially arrested on two counts of aggravated assault, the charges were later elevated to eight counts of attempted murder.

The state amended the charges again in April as part of a pretrial settlement offer.

In court Monday, Coeur d’Alene-based psychiatrist Dr. John Wolfe testified as to Sherper’s mental state.

Wolfe examined Sherper on two occasions and diagnosed him with bipolar disorder, a mental illness where a person has repeated, long-lasting periods of high and low mood.

He said Sherper was experiencing a manic episode at the time of the shooting.

Symptoms of mania include fast or pressured speech, risk-taking behaviors, delusions of grandeur and increased hostility or irritability.

Sherper’s condition was previously undiagnosed and untreated. Wolfe said Sherper was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.

“Many individuals who have these mood dysregulation disorders use substances to try to modulate these moods,” he said. “It ends up causing more problems in life.”

Another clinician reportedly diagnosed Sherper with antisocial personality disorder.

Wolfe said about 40 percent of adults diagnosed with bipolar disorder are also diagnosed with a cluster B personality disorder, one of several conditions that can cause difficulty regulating emotions and behavior.

“One does not preclude the other,” he said, adding that a person experiencing a manic episode might exhibit antisocial behaviors.

Angela Lentz, Sherper’s older sister, said her family was shocked and saddened when they learned of Sherper’s actions.

Though Sherper’s family had noticed alarming changes in his behavior that suggested mania, they were unable to convince him to return to Whitefish for treatment.

She said Sherper has been proactive about treating his mental illness during his time in jail, which has been spent in solitary confinement.

“He believes God has a plan for him,” Lentz said. “The change I’ve seen in my brother gave me hope.”

Sherper told the court he wants to take responsibility for his actions.

Though he was grateful that he didn’t seriously injure anyone, he said he recognized that he narrowly avoided a tragedy.

“I think God was there that day, keeping us all relatively safe,” he said.

Judge Wayman echoed that sentiment before he handed down Sherper’s sentence.

“I don’t know who was looking over your shoulder that night,” Wayman said. “Any one of those bullets could’ve ruined any one of those people’s lives.”

Though a presentence investigation indicated that Sherper was a good candidate for retained jurisdiction, Wayman said he didn’t believe it was appropriate.

The facts of the case were clear, Wayman said. At the time of the shooting, Sherper was both intoxicated and in the middle of a mental health crisis.

Though he was not in his right mind, Wayman said, Sherper “had it together enough” to get in his vehicle and come back with a gun.

Wayman pointed to the positive factors in Sherper’s life, including support from his family and community in Whitefish.

“You have a very supportive family,” he said. “Not everyone has that. They have stood by you. They are going to stick with you no matter what. Don’t ever forget that.”