For a long time, Rebecca Stafford waited on two words.
She thought they might take away her fear of the former Los Angeles city firefighter who punched her over and over outside his West Adams home in 2013. While she waited, she avoided the market in her neighborhood — scared she might run into Ian Eulian. She festered with frustration as she listened to him in court defend his actions.
But on Tuesday, Eulian turned to her in a downtown L.A. courtroom and whispered the words.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
She nodded and mouthed, “Thank you.”
The apology came during a court hearing in which a Los Angeles County judge sentenced Eulian to 180 days in jail for repeatedly punching Stafford, who often fed stray cats near his home. A security camera at a nearby community arts center captured the Sept. 14, 2013, incident on video.
Eulian, 39, choked back tears as he told the judge he wasn’t proud of what happened after his “split-second reaction” that Saturday.
“My emotions got the best of me,” he said.
A few minutes later, Stafford, 48, addressed the court, again thanking Eulian for his apology and saying she knows what it feels like to lose one's temper. She told the judge her feelings of fear had disappeared with his apology and said she didn’t have an opinion on whether Eulian should serve time behind bars.
A jury convicted Eulian of assault and battery in May. Jurors in an earlier trial had deadlocked last year on the charges.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Joshua Ritter asked the judge to sentence Eulian to a year in jail. Although the former firefighter lived an exemplary life until the assault, his actions that day were “shockingly violent and callous,” Ritter said.
Eulian, who was off duty at the time, knocked Stafford unconscious, Ritter said, and she still suffers neck pain and emotional damage from the attack, which happened on her birthday.
Defense attorney Robert A. Schwartz characterized the moment captured on video as a “total, total aberration” from Eulian’s exemplary behavior during the rest of his life. His client jumped in that day, Schwartz said, only to defend his mother, who is captured on the recording arguing with Stafford before Eulian punches her. Eulian approached Stafford, prosecutors say, and yelled at her about feeding stray cats in the area. Schwartz told jurors that Stafford kicked his client’s mother first.
Schwartz asked Superior Court Judge Jose Sandoval not to give any jail time to his client — who recently resigned from the Fire Department — asking the judge to consider that Eulian lost his career, which he loved.
“He will never be a firefighter again — this is devastating,” he said. “There are huge consequences already.”
Ami Motevalli, who directs the arts center near Eulian’s home, told the judge she’s always known Eulian to be helpful and loving. More than once, she said she watched him come to the rescue of others.
One time, a man crumpled to the ground in the arts center and Eulian resuscitated him using CPR. Another time, a boy attending summer camp at the center wet his pants. Motevalli didn’t know what to do and asked Eulian for help. He brought over a new pair of shorts, she said, and consoled the boy.
Toward the end of the hearing, Sandoval said he believed Eulian’s actions that day were, indeed, “aberrant behavior,” and commended him for apologizing.
“This is, unfortunately, a sad case,” Sandoval said. “His anger got the best of him.”
When Sandoval sentenced Eulian to jail time — as well as probation, 25 days of California Department of Transportation work and anger-management classes — Eulian’s mother gasped. A man sitting next to her shrieked and Stafford looked up at the ceiling.
Schwartz filed a notice of appeal Tuesday. Over the objection of the prosecutor, Eulian remains free on $20,000 bond while his appeal is pending, the district attorney's office said.
To streamline the case, Ritter said, the district attorney’s office dismissed charges against Eulian’s 72-year-old mother, Lonieta Fontaine, after the first trial.
Outside of the courthouse, Stafford said Eulian’s apology — a move she didn’t expect — had changed her entire view of the case.
“That’s kind of what I wanted from the beginning,” she said.
For more news from the Los Angeles County criminal courts, follow @marisagerber on Twitter.