11.22.2008

TS - Gundersen faces new charge 11/21/08

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☛ TS Gundersen faces new charge

The Humboldt County District Attorney's Office filed a new criminal complaint against former Blue Lake Police Chief David Ray Gundersen on Thursday, alleging one felony count of theft by a public official.

”The new charge arises from alleged misconduct, also involving firearms, uncovered in an investigation by the Trinidad Police Department,” Assistant District Attorney Wes Keat wrote in an e-mail to the Times-Standard.

Gundersen was acquitted of two dozen spousal rape charges in September, but convicted on 11 lesser counts of battery, a count of violating a court order and two felony charges of illegally possessing a submachine gun and a pistol with a silencer.

He is due to be sentenced on those convictions at a hearing today, when a judge is also expected to hear oral arguments over a defense motion seeking a retrial and the dismissal of some of the convictions. Keat said Gundersen will also be arraigned on the new charge during today's court appearance.

Gundersen's attorney, Russell Clanton, did not return calls to his office seeking comment for this story.

The Trinidad Police Department turned an investigative report over to the DA's Office on Nov. 12 recommending a total of 10 charges against Gundersen, including a charge of embezzlement, four charges of felony grand theft by a public official and four counts of evidence tampering.

Those recommended charges, Trinidad Police Chief Ken Thrailkill said, were based on evidence that Gundersen had allegedly sent four firearms he seized while working in Trinidad to Southern California's Cinema Weaponry in 2003 as a part of a trade for the submachine gun and silencer he was recently convicted of possessing illegally.

”Basically, he took the weapons without authorization from the city or the police department of Trinidad,” Thrailkill said in a previous interview. “Nobody had authorized him to, first of all, have those in his possession and, secondly, to trade Trinidad evidence for illegal firearms.”

Gundersen was employed as Trinidad's police chief from 1997 to 1999, but continued to provide law enforcement in the city for some time after that, as Trinidad and Blue Lake entered into a contract under which the BLPD covered Trinidad.

Trinidad's investigation spanned months, Thrailkill said, and stemmed from a tip from DA's Office investigators, who said they found Trinidad evidence items while searching the Blue Lake Police Department's storage facility after Gundersen's arrest. The investigation culminated, Thrailkill said, with a search warrant served on Cinema Weaponry, where investigators recovered the Trinidad guns.

Rather than follow Trinidad's charging recommendations, the DA's Office opted to instead charge a sole felony grand theft count for all the Trinidad firearms involved in the alleged Cinema Weaponry trade. The evidence tampering charges weren't pursued, likely due to the statute of limitations for misdemeanor charges.

If convicted on the felony grand theft charge, Gundersen would face a maximum of three years in prison.

On the issue of his prior case, his attorney Clanton filed a motion on Nov. 12 alleging that jury errors, insufficient evidence, issues with statutes of limitations and improper argument and questioning by District Attorney Paul Gallegos resulted in prejudiced jury verdicts that should be thrown out or, at least, retried.

In a four-page response, Keat argues that the verdicts are supported by evidence and that Clanton's statute of limitations argument is ill timed, and should have come during jury instructions.

”The defendant's motion is without merit,” Keat concludes in the filed response.

If the convictions hold up, Gundersen faces a maximum sentence of three years and eight months in prison or a fine of $20,000 for the two firearms convictions, as well as a maximum sentence of six months in jail, a fine of $2,000 or both for each of the 11 battery convictions.

In April, Gundersen was also held to stand trial on charges that he allegedly forcibly raped his then live-in girlfriend in 1999 and acted unlawfully with department records -- charges that a judge later ordered be tried separately from the others facing the embattled police chief at the time.

Gallegos has yet to formally announce if he plans to pursue those charges but said he has met with the alleged victim in the case, Jane Doe 2.

”As it stands, we expect to proceed,” Gallegos told the Times-Standard late last month.

A federal investigation was also launched into the cache of about 30 submachine guns found at the Blue Lake Police Department, the findings of which were turned over to the U.S. Attorney's Office months ago. Josh Eaton, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's San Francisco office, has repeatedly declined to comment on the matter.

Gallegos is currently out of the office for the week, but Keat said the DA's Office will be prepared to have Gundersen arraigned today, and will argue that his convictions should stand.

”We will argue that Mr. Gundersen had a fair trial and that the court should sentence him to prison to punish him for the offenses of which the jury found him guilty,” Keat said in the e-mail.


Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or tgreenson@times-standard.com
Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard
Posted: 11/21/2008 01:27:31 AM PST