A Conway man who fired a gun and started a small fire inside the city's main post office in late September, causing workers to run for cover, pleaded guilty Friday to three federal felony charges.
But Stephen Gregory Potts, 46, still offered no explanation for his behavior.
According to court documents filed by a postal inspector shortly after the Sept. 29 incident, Potts told an employee of the facility on Hogan Lane that he wasn't going to hurt him and wasn't going to "commit suicide by cop," but was just "doing what he needed to do so he could get help."
He also told a Conway police officer that he wanted to be prosecuted in federal court, according to the reports. Documents show he worked at home as a data analyst for Mathematica, a technical computing business, and said he was afraid he was going to be fired, but wouldn't explain further.
Court records show that Potts, who has a master's degree, underwent a mental evaluation after he was indicted. While details of the exam are not public, records show that he remained scheduled for a jury trial Sept. 23, indicating he was found mentally competent to stand trial.
On Friday, Potts' attorney, Bill James of Little Rock, told U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker that a plea agreement had been prepared, but Potts had instead decided to plead "straight up" to the charges he was already facing -- assaulting a Postal Service employee with a dangerous weapon, possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, and possession of a firearm in a federal facility.
The first charge is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, while the second charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and the third is punishable by up to five years in prison.
James noted that Potts is going through a divorce and that among those in the courtroom were his estranged wife's divorce attorney, whose presence causes Potts to get "a little freaked out."
Court records show that Potts' wife, Julianna, filed for divorce in Conway County Circuit Court on Oct. 23. She had first obtained an order of protection from him on behalf of herself and the couple's two children on Oct. 4 in Faulkner County, citing the incident at the post office. The records also show the couple have been married 16 years.
Potts, who has been jailed since his arrest the day of the incident, answered the judge's questions Friday but didn't provide any more details, then agreed that Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Crews' statement about what happened was true.
Crews said that shortly before noon Sept. 29, Potts entered the post office, where two window clerks, a custodian and a supervisor were preparing to close. He pulled a .380-caliber Sig Sauer pistol from his pocket and climbed over the counter to the workroom floor. The supervisor, Shawn Page, walked between Potts and the two female window clerks, allowing them to run to the bathroom and call 911.
Potts fired an initial shot into a mail hamper and then fired more shots in the air, at one point instructing Page to lie on the ground, Crews said. He said Potts then picked up some mail and used a long-handled lighter to set it on fire, and then walked behind some equipment, at which point Page ran out of the building. A female custodian who was in the back of the building also escaped without injury.
A search warrant was later executed at Potts' home on Gardenia Lane, where a gun box was found that police said was tied to six bullet casings recovered at the scene.
A detective's affidavit filed in support of the search warrant in Faulkner County Circuit Court said Potts' family told police he had recently suffered from anxiety about his job and was taking psychotropic medicine and going to counseling. His wife told police that he had made statements that "you all would be better off without me around."
James told the judge that Potts had agreed to surrender the gun and ammunition, and had agreed to pay $6,094.55 in restitution to the post office.
Baker accepted the plea and told Potts that he would be sentenced after a pre-sentence report is prepared in about 90 days.
Potts initially faced 12 charges in Faulkner County Circuit Court, but they were dropped after Potts was indicted by a federal grand jury.
Metro on 07/28/2019