2.29.2008

TS - Gundersen's lawyer: A 'witch hunt'

Gundersen's lawyer: A 'witch hunt'

ARCATA -- The attorney representing Blue Lake Police Chief David Gundersen said the prosecution of his client amounts to a “witch hunt” and questioned the timing and nature of one of the most recent charges -- which carries a possible life sentence.
”It's a very serious thing to lay out charges that could incarcerate a person the rest of their life,” Attorney Russell Clanton said Thursday. “It's our view the district attorney is trying to develop the case as they go along.”

Gundersen, 53, faces four additional charges on top of 12 counts of spousal rape while “using an intoxication an anesthetic substance,” and three charges allegedly committed while in jail.

Among the new charges, filed in an amended criminal complaint Wednesday, include kidnapping a second victim to commit rape, selling, offering for sale, possessing or transporting a machine gun, possessing a firearm silencer and acting unlawfully with department records in violation of the California Vehicle Code.

District Attorney Paul Gallegos said the second alleged victim came forward on Monday. The charge stems from a March 7,1999, incident in Humboldt County and carries a possible life sentence.

”It's not unusual for victims to come out when they know of an defendant that has offended in the past,” Gallegos said. “I think many people would be afraid to come forward -- they would think they would not be believed over the chief of police.”

Clanton said this matter was reported nearly 10 years ago to the Eureka Police Department, and resulted in “no action whatsoever.”

”The timing and nature of the allegation, given what we know about the history of that particular complaint, is extremely troubling,” Clanton said.

Clanton didn't want to comment on the recently added weapons charges because he hasn't received all supporting evidence from the DA's office. He did say police departments have the right and need to possess a wide variety weapons.

Clanton said he believes the charges are rooted in an ongoing custody battle between Gundersen and his ex-wife, who is an employee with the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office.

While Clanton said he still holds that opinion, it appears there are people in the law enforcement community “with an ax to grind.” He also said evidence to support the latest charges are trickling in from the DA's office, putting the defense at a disadvantage.

Gallegos said “everyone will hear what the facts are and they'll be tested in court, as opposed to someone saying something.”

Gundersen was arrested Feb. 8 at the McKinleyville Sheriff's Office substation and the first 15 charges were filed Feb. 14. His wife, who is on administrative leave, is a sergeant with the now-inoperable Blue Lake Police Department, which had a police chief, sergeant and two officers.

Gundersen has pleaded not guilty to all charges and remains at the Humboldt County Correctional Facility on $500,000 bail. He is scheduled for a bail hearing this afternoon and has a preliminary hearing scheduled Monday.

His wife, one of the alleged victims, has been labeled a hostile witness by the DA's office and has been ordered by Superior Court Judge John Feeney to return to court Monday.

Gallegos said the DA's office will try the case in court. “If we don't have sufficient evidence, he will be acquitted,” he said.
Regardless of profession, everyone is subject to the same laws, he said.

”The chief, just like everyone, is entitled to a presumption of innocence until found guilty. Until then, we can't comment.”