Ex-norristown Officer Sentenced For Assault Claude Lacombe, 29, Got Six To 20 Years For Sexually Attacking A Borough Woman In His Patrol Car Last Year.

Posted: January 10, 1998

Claude J. LaCombe, the former Norristown police officer some call a protector and others call a predator, was sentenced yesterday to six to 20 years in state prison for sexual assault.

Early in the proceeding, LaCombe, 29, and his wife, Nancy, begged Montgomery County Court Judge William R. Carpenter to let him serve the sentence in county prison, describing violent threats from other inmates eager to get back at a police officer.

``We know if he gets a sentence upstate, he isn't coming home,'' Nancy LaCombe said.

Claude LaCombe, who was convicted of forcing a borough woman to perform oral sex in the back of his patrol car Feb. 2, will be required to register with local police under Pennsylvania's version of Megan's Law for a decade after his release.

Trial testimony from LaCombe's accuser - that she saw his holstered gun during the assault and was afraid to resist - prompted Carpenter to stiffen yesterday's sentence by one year.

In court yesterday, Norristown Police Chief Thomas Stone described how his department had become the subject of ``ridicule and distrust'' since LaCombe's arrest.

``For a while, it was difficult to get the troops to walk out of roll call with their heads held high,'' Stone said.

LaCombe was fired from the Norristown force Feb. 5, the day after he was charged.

But defense attorney John I. McMahon Jr. described a young officer beset by a series of on-the-job pressures who eventually just snapped.

``I'm sorry for the things I've done,'' LaCombe said yesterday. ``I've tarnished the badge.''

LaCombe's problems began in 1994, his wife testified, after he fired the bullet that killed Micus C. Golson, an accused drug dealer who first shot at police trying to arrest him.

LaCombe suffered nightmares, his therapist testified yesterday, reliving the experience again and again.

``The man wasn't right after that,'' McMahon said.

``That's the job,'' Assistant District Attorney Risa V. Ferman argued. ``If you can't fight it, get out.''

LaCombe also was involved in four on-duty car accidents, one of which resulted in critical injuries to a borough woman. He was suspended, then reinstated on foot patrol.

Early in yesterday's proceeding, Pierre LaCombe described his older brother as a role model who, despite their difficult childhood, had always aspired to be a police officer.

``When we were younger, we would play cops and robbers. He was always the cop,'' Pierre LaCombe said.

Another defense witness, Salomon Campos, said LaCombe was his protector. He described how gangs and drug dealers once lingered outside the small Mexican food market he runs along Marshall Street in Norristown, until Claude LaCombe made the seedy street feel safe again.

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