Same day as Ellsworth standoff, wife granted PFA

February 18, 2014
Joe Cunningham

On the same day her husband charged the Oak Street home they rented together with weapons, briefly taking her 15-year-old daughter hostage and engaging in a 19-hour standoff with state police, an Ellsworth woman was granted a temporary protection-from-abuse order against him.

On Friday, Crystal Cunningham, 33, was granted a PFA protecting her three children and herself from her husband of 13 years, Joe Cunningham, according to court documents. Citing instances of verbal and physical abuse in her request, Crystal Cunningham asked that Joe Cunningham be excluded from the 36 Oak St. home they rented together nearly four years ago and that he have no contact with her.

The homeowners told the Observer-Reporter Joe Cunningham’s name already had been removed from the lease, and court documents indicated Cunningham had not lived at the home since July and was not permitted to be inside.

The PFA was granted by Washington County Judge Michael Lucas, and a hearing had been scheduled for Feb. 27.

It was not known whether Joe Cunningham had been served with the PFA paperwork prior to arriving at the home Friday. According to court documents, Cunningham arrived at the Oak Street home about 3:15 p.m., just as Crystal Cunningham’s 15-year-old daughter was returning home from school. State police said Crystal Cunningham was at the home during the incident; however, the affidavit of probable cause does not mention her.

Crystal Cunningham’s boyfriend, Jason Anderson, was home when the girl arrived and happened to look out the window.

Anderson told state police that he saw Joe Cunningham’s vehicle outside and went to the front door.

Cunningham asked to come inside, and Anderson told him no. Anderson told police Cunningham then pulled out two weapons, and he then allowed Cunningham to come inside.

Anderson said Cunningham had him sit at a dining room table. He told police both guns remained displayed.

Anderson told police he attempted to reason with Cunningham and asked him to leave several times. Cunningham refused, and said he was there to kill Anderson for taking his family away, the affidavit said.

Anderson said Cunningham was upset because he was no longer allowed to see his children. Joe and Crystal Cunningham have two younger children together, in addition to his 15-year-old stepdaughter.

At one point, the 15-year-old attempted to talk Cunningham into leaving, but again he refused and told them he had a shotgun in his truck, the affidavit said.

Cunningham then shut Anderson and the girl in the dining room and left the home to retrieve the shotgun. While Cunningham was outside, Anderson said he was able to retrieve a handgun from his bedroom.

Anderson told police he attempted to lock Cunningham out of the house, but he was already at the door. Anderson said Cunningham then pointed a gun at his head and pulled the trigger. The gun did not fire, and Anderson pulled the trigger on his weapon, which misfired.

Anderson told police that they both cocked their weapons while Anderson backed away. He was able to get his gun to fire, shooting Cunningham in the upper arm, and the two exchanged multiple gunshots.

Anderson said he was able to escape the home through a bedroom window.

Cunningham remained in the house with the girl. The girl told police that when Cunningham realized he had been shot, he went to get a beer and sat two of the guns in a corner of the dining room. At some point, he dropped the third weapon, which the girl was able to grab and use to keep Cunningham at bay until she could grab the other weapons and flee.

Cunningham remained in the house surrounded by a SWAT team for 19 hours before peacefully surrendering to police Saturday.

He was arraigned Sunday before District Judge James Ellis on burglary, aggravated assault, unlawful restraint, terroristic threats, simple assault, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief charges.

Cunningham remains in the Washington County jail on $250,000 bond. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Feb. 28 before District Judge Curtis Thompson.

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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