There were multiple factors to consider, Judge Charles Zambito said in County Court today, during the sentencing of James Tripp, a former emergency dispatcher accused of possessing more than 70 images of girls under age 16 of a sexual nature.
Tripp, on his own, completed counseling. He has avoided further similar transgressions over the past three years. He has a lifetime of service to the community. He has an ailing wife to care for. The Probation Department recommended a straight probation sentence, a recommendation Zambito noted is highly unusual in a pornography case. The department said Tripp is not a threat to the community.
However, "No victims are represented here in this case because none of the victim girls could be identified," Zambito said. "If their parents were here, I'm sure they would want me to send you to jail for as long as I can."
Then, Zambito said, he also consider the community's sense of justice and their perception of the judicial system.
The Probation Department's recommendation wouldn't satisfy the community's sense that some punishment is appropriate in a child pornography case.
Zambito also took into consideration both Tripp's service to the community -- which included decades of volunteer fire service -- and the expectation the public has for people who work in positions of responsibility.
"Your position (as a highly decorated emergency dispatcher) cuts both ways," Zambito said. "Your position is also one of responsibility and one people respect and expect you to not just cooperate with the law, but to be above the law. All of us in this room are in that position."
Assistant District Attorney Kaitlynn Schmit recommended at least some jail time for Tripp. Under the terms of the plea deal, Tripp could be sentenced up to six months in jail. Schmit asked for three months.
Zambito wanted to know why she was asking for three months considering the probation department's recommendation and Schmit said while she took into consideration Tripp's service to the community and his apparent rehabilitation, she also considered the number of images possessed by Tripp on three devices, and the fact that on at least one occasion, he uploaded an image to a server, some length of jail time was appropriate.
Tripp's attorney, Clark Zimmerman, argued for the Probation Department's recommendation, saying his client was truly remorseful.
"This is a non-contact type of offense," Zimmerman said. "I’m not saying there are no victims. I’m saying in the scheme of things, it’s at the lower end of this and even with the number of image the prosecution mentions it is still on the low end of this."
The case against Tripp began in December 2017 when an image of a young girl was uploaded from a computer with Tripp's home IP address. State Police investigators obtained a search warrant for his home and executed it on Dec. 20, 2017. They found 70 images on three devices that could be identified as sexually explicit or suggestive images of girls under 16 and they found another 200 images where the girls were of indeterminate age.
During his statement -- which he said would be brief but lasted more than 10 minutes -- Tripp said his quiet, family-oriented life changed on Dec. 17, 2017.
"Before the State Police had even left my residence, my life turned completely upside down," Tripp said.
A man who favored rum and Cokes -- he drank while downloading images, Schmit had said -- Tripp said he has been dry since the day troopers arrived on his doorstep.
He immediately entered a rehabilitation program at the Family Life Center.
He said he felt no animosity toward the State Police, toward his former employer, the Genesee County Sheriff's Office, or any of the people he considered friends who have stayed away from him since his arrest.
"If I have any animosity, it's for me, for my actions," Tripp said.
He recounted his career and his desire to serve the community and to raise his children to do the right thing.
"I screwed up," Tripp said. "There is no question about that. I have been trying since Dec. 17, 2017, to make things better for us again. It's not going to go away. It's there every day. Every day I think about it. I'm ashamed. I've been disgraced. I'm embarrassed. I'm anything you could think of. I'm embarrassed every day. I'm sorry for my wife, for my kids, for my work friends over the years. It's a battle every day for us."
He said he applied for gainful employment and revealed to each potential employer his pending charges. Two employers, he said, didn't hire him but one did. It was a part-time job he held for a little more than a year and then, just before the pandemic hit, his arrest was announced and he was fired.
He hasn't looked for work since while waiting for his case to be resolved.
"No one from any of the agencies I worked with has tried to talk with me, and rightfully so," Tripp said. "There are people who I worked with for 25 years and I've got to assume we had some sort of relationship, that they were friends. Everybody knows people talk.
"I'm not saying I'm not guilty but when the charges came out people read it and they formed their opinions. People read about me and conclude I'm the biggest jerk out there but from previous jobs, I can say, there are a lot more jerks than me out there."
Tripp said going forward, his focus is his wife and his family.
After Zambito sentenced Tripp, Zimmerman told Zambito that Tripp's wife would have no way to get home if Tripp went straight to jail from the courthouse. Zambito agreed to let Tripp give his wife a ride home and ordered him back to the courthouse by 2 p.m. so he could be transported by deputies to the jail to begin his 90-day sentence.
He warned Tripp that if he didn't return on time, he would lose his sentencing cap.
The Batavian confirmed this afternoon that Tripp returned to the courthouse and was booked into the Genesee County Jail.