TS - Gundersen given probation for firearms convictions 11/22/08

☛ TS Gundersen given probation for firearms convictions

A Humboldt County Superior Court judge sentenced former Blue Lake Police Chief David Gundersen to four years probation Friday, for a pair of September convictions of illegally possessing a submachine gun and a pistol with a silencer.

Gundersen faced a maximum sentence of three years and eight months in prison for the convictions, but Judge Bruce Watson found that unusual circumstances surrounded the convictions which would normally carry a presumption of ineligibility for probation.

Watson also ruled in favor of a defense motion seeking to set aside 11 misdemeanor battery convictions, ruling that the convictions were time-barred by statutes of limitations.

Prior to Friday's sentencing hearing, Gundersen was arraigned on a felony charge of grand theft by a public official and pleaded not guilty. He is due back in court next week.

A jury of seven women and five men acquitted the former police chief on 24 counts of spousal rape, but convicted him in 11 lesser-included counts of misdemeanor battery, one count of violating a court order and charges of illegally possessing both a submachine gun and a pistol with a silencer.

After an April preliminary hearing, Gundersen was also held to stand trial on allegations that he raped his then live-in girlfriend in 1999 and acted unlawfully with department records, but a judge ruled those charges would be tried separately.
In court Friday, the District Attorney's Office also announced it will not proceed with those charges.

”My instructions are that the people don't intend to proceed with those counts, so I request that they be dismissed in the interest of justice,” Assistant District Attorney Wes Keat told the court.

After Watson ruled to set aside the battery convictions but against granting the defense a new trial on the firearms convictions, the courtroom fell silent while Watson pondered the sentencing decision.

Watson spent more than 45 minutes discussing the case and the possibility that circumstances existed that were unusual enough to warrant granting Gundersen probation in lieu of a prison sentence.

On the one hand, Watson said that it was clear the jury felt Gundersen was guilty of the possession and battery charges, that Gundersen had presided over a small police department found to be in possession of dozens of submachine guns without any “legitimate” use for them, that Gundersen had violated a court order and that he appeared to have taken advantage of the public trust.

On the other hand, Watson said the court had received a number of character letters in support of Gundersen, that he had no existing criminal record, that the criminal case had destroyed his career and had drastic impacts on his family and that the firearms possession charges only arose out of the spousal rape allegations, on which Gundersen was ultimately acquitted.

”I'll tell you, this is a bit difficult,” Watson said. “The goal is justice -- equal justice.”

Watson then sentenced Gundersen to four years probation, the exact terms and restrictions of which will be determined next week.

After the hearing, Keat declined to comment specifically on Watson's ruling, but said it was evident that it was a difficult one for the judge to make.

”You saw it was a very difficult decision for the judge to come to,” Keat said. “That's the longest incubation for a decision I've seen in a long time, so it was obviously a very difficult decision.”

For his part, Gundersen's attorney Russell Clanton said it was a “reasoned ruling” based on the case.

Gundersen is due to return to court on Wednesday, when dates will be set for his grand theft case, which stems from allegations that Gundersen took firearms out of Trinidad Police Department evidence and traded them, along with other guns, for the submachine gun and silencer he was convicted of possessing.

Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or tgreenson@times-standard.com

Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard
Posted: 11/22/2008 01:30:15 AM PST