Student Pleads Not Guilty to Charges Stemming From Davis Gun Incident

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benson-nicholasUC Davis Student Nicholas Allen Benson pled not guilty to making terrorist threats, among four charges, as well as denying enhancements he faces after being arrested in Davis on Friday night.

According to the police’s account, at approximately 6:00 PM on Friday evening, Davis Police Officers were dispatched to the downtown area to search for an armed suicidal 25-year-old UC Davis student, Nicholas Benson.

After Mr. Benson received numerous commands to surrender, he allegedly resisted and headed straight for his vehicle.  Just as Mr. Benson entered the cab of his pickup truck, officers used a Taser and other non-lethal measures to subdue him and take him into custody.

The police found in his vehicle a loaded rifle with a telescopic sight, and a loaded shotgun. They also located hundreds of rounds of rifle ammunition in Benson’s possession.

His attorney Steve Sabbadini told reporters outside of the Courthouse on Wednesday that Mr. Benson is a good kid who needs help.

“He grew up in Davis, graduated from Davis High School.  UCD student.  Never been in trouble, never arrested.  Essentially just a meltdown that has to be addressed,” Mr. Sabbadini said following his client entering a not-guilty plea.

“He was mainly a danger to himself, not a danger to others,” he added. 

He also said it was premature to make any further comments and did not comment on confirmation about a past car crash. 

As we reported on Monday, family and friends indicate that as a teenager, the individual suffered significant head injuries in an automobile accident, to the point where he nearly did not survive.

He has struggled to complete college and live a normal life.

They believe that, while he was suicidal, the idea that he was making terrorists threats was overblown and this was simply an overreaction.

“This young man belongs in the hospital, not in jail,” as according to one person familiar with Mr. Benson’s situation.

However, Davis police believe that without fast action on their part, we could have been looking at a tragic situation.

They say that Mr. Benson had several hundred rounds of ammunition, both on his person and in his truck.

“It was a military style rifle,” Lt. Doroshov told News 10. “We don’t want to speculate on what his motive was. But it was potentially explosive based on the weaponry involved, the ammunition that was there, and its close proximity to downtown Davis.”

“It’s amazing nobody was dead,” Lt. Doroshov said. “Everybody walked away with their life, including Mr. Benson himself.”

Defense Attorney Sabbadini asked that Mr. Benson be locked in a mental facility with evaluation, rather than a jail at this time.

The next hearing will be on February 4 in Judge Fall’s courtroom to determine competence to stand trial.  He currently sits in jail on $1 million bail.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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16 thoughts on “Student Pleads Not Guilty to Charges Stemming From Davis Gun Incident”

  1. biddlin

    Again the good news is that everyone came out alive. This potentially tragic situation was not unforeseeable. Such events are occurring with greater frequency. Every year 2 million Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury. About a quarter of those are hospitalized. Because of improved emergency care, survival rates for TBI s has doubled since 1970. After the initial treatment, patients must rely on outpatient community based resources. Even if they have a caregiver, subtle symptoms may be difficult to detect and they frequently are only dealt with in crisis situations.
    I don’t have any good solutions other than to educate ourselves and think about how you would want a loved one treated in a situation like this, because if you don’t know someone with TBI, the chances are that you will.

  2. hpierce

    I’m thinking that the arrest was good. The fact that criminal charges were filed is good (forces a “time out”). Treatment is the highest priority. Not sure if the criminal charges should be pursued, particularly if Mr. Benson realizes that there are issues that he needs to deal with, and actively participates in therapy/intervention. If he works to deal with his issues, I’d be supportive of criminal charges being dropped.
    There is the financial issue of the cost of treatment, and the cost of the public resources used to find/apprehend him. Who pays? Cost of “society”, or Mr. Benson and/or the family who requested the intervention? I have mixed feelings.

  3. E Roberts Musser

    This is the best possible outcome: the defendant is stopped before he does damage (to himself or others) that could not be taken back; no one was hurt. This is how the system is supposed to work. I want to express my gratitude to the family of the defendant, who had the courage to report the situation to the police. My hope is that the defendant will now get the assistance he so desperately and clearly needs. Would that the Giffords tragegy had ended more like this situation…

  4. E Roberts Musser

    And just as an aside, I really hope the defendant can somehow manage to put his life back together. A traumatic brain injury has to be exceedingly difficult to deal with, especially for a young person who assumed that his/her life was on a particular planned trajectory…life can be so hard sometimes…

  5. Fight Against Injustice

    Is there any evidence beyond the guns/ammunition found in his truck to link this guy to a terrorist threat? Was there anything verbal or written by the defendant that would lead the DA to charge terrorist threats?

    The family seems to only think that he was only a threat to himself.

  6. E Roberts Musser

    FAI: “Is there any evidence beyond the guns/ammunition found in his truck to link this guy to a terrorist threat? Was there anything verbal or written by the defendant that would lead the DA to charge terrorist threats?”

    From the Davis Enterprise 1/25 article: “Benson, a senior communications major who has attended UCD since 2005, was arrested Friday evening near his downtown Davis home after a relative called police to report that Benson was distraught, suicidal and possibly armed with a rifle. The relative also relayed that Benson had “threatened to kill others”…although he apparently hadn’t targeted anyone specifically.”

  7. Rifkin

    [i]”Is there any evidence beyond the guns/ammunition found in his truck to link this guy to a terrorist threat?”[/i]

    Here is an explanation of what consitutes a criminal threat ([url]http://www.shouselaw.com/criminal_threats.html[/url]) (formerly known as a terrorist threat) in the California Penal Code (422).

  8. Rifkin

    [u]The Elements of the Crime of Criminal Threats[/u]
    1. The defendant willfully threatened to unlawfully kill or unlawfully inflict great bodily injury on another person;

    2. The defendant made the threat orally or in writing or by electronic communication device;

    3. The defendant intended that the statement be understood as a threat and intended that it be received by the other person;

    4. The threat was so clear, immediate, unconditional, and specific that it communicated to the other person a serious intention and the immediate prospect that the threat would be carried out;

    5. The threat actually caused the other person to be in sustained fear for her or his own safety or for the safety of her or his immediate family;

    AND

    6. The other person’s fear was reasonable under the circumstances.

    Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. In deciding whether a threat was sufficiently clear, immediate, unconditional, and specific, consider the words themselves, as well as the surrounding circumstances. Someone who intends that a statement be understood as a threat does not have to actually intend to carry out the threatened act (or intend to have someone else do so). Great bodily injury means significant or substantial physical injury. It is an injury that is greater than minor or moderate harm. Sustained fear means fear for a period of time that is more than momentary, fleeting, or transitory. If a threat is intended to and does induce a sustained fear, the person making the threat need not know whether the threat was actually received.

  9. Bill Ritter

    The Davis Police did a great job in apprehending the young man in this case and they clearly prevented a dangerous situation from becoming a possible calamity. The young man was a danger to himself and others having threatened suicide and his intent to harm others. His family thought so too and they called the police for help. He then ignored police commands and attempted to get into his truck which had two loaded guns and hundreds of rounds of ammo in the cab, in violation of our gun laws. Whatever the eventual outcome of this case, this past Friday, the Davis Police did an outstanding job protecting our community.

  10. E Roberts Musser

    Bill Ritter: “The Davis Police did a great job in apprehending the young man in this case and they clearly prevented a dangerous situation from becoming a possible calamity. The young man was a danger to himself and others having threatened suicide and his intent to harm others. His family thought so too and they called the police for help. He then ignored police commands and attempted to get into his truck which had two loaded guns and hundreds of rounds of ammo in the cab, in violation of our gun laws. Whatever the eventual outcome of this case, this past Friday, the Davis Police did an outstanding job protecting our community.”

    Amen…

  11. Bill Ritter

    A good column by Dan Morain of the Sacramento Bee…..

    [quote]Sacramento Bee—Dan Morain:
    Published: Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011

    Family, Davis police avert possible tragedy

    It seemed all-too familiar: A young man with an AR-15 assault weapon and 10 fully loaded magazines, each with 30 bullets, is distraught, and across the street from a college campus.

    This time, horrible didn’t happen. But the events that unfolded in Davis early Friday evening make clear what is all too obvious: In a state with some of the nation’s toughest gun control laws, troubled young men have ready access to illegal weaponry.

    Much remains unknown about the incident and the individual, Nicholas Benson, a 25-year-old student majoring in communications at UC Davis, including what he might have been contemplating.

    But as recounted by Davis Police Lt. Paul Doroshov, Benson’s family members took the heroic step of calling police shortly before 6 p.m. Friday, worried that Benson was armed, suicidal and talking of hurting others.

    Within minutes, a dozen Davis city cops were searching for Benson. At about 6:40 p.m., two officers on foot spotted him at A and Fourth streets, by his Chevy pickup, near his apartment, next to UC Davis’ athletic fields and a few blocks from the center of downtown. The officers told Benson to drop to the ground. He bolted for the truck, where the loaded AR-15 and a loaded 12-gauge shotgun were, Doroshov said. One cop grabbed Benson as he scrambled into the cab and held him before he could grab the weapons. The other cop shot him with a Taser.

    I don’t know much about Benson, though he was in high school at the same time as one of my kids. In the Davis Senior High School yearbooks from 2002 and 2003, Benson looks like almost every other student, nothing vaguely weird. He was a wrestler and involved in River City Children’s Theatre Company.

    As a junior in 2003 at age 17, Benson broke his neck and suffered a head injury in a terrible car crash on the Yolo Causeway. He had to relearn basic skills.

    In 2005, a Davis high science teacher recommended him for a Rotary Award, as detailed in the Davis Enterprise: “As a Davis High School wrestler and as a student in my physics class, Nick is making a strong finish to his high school career. A serious accident several years ago almost took his life, but left him with an inner gift that, I hope, will continue to enrich those around him.”

    At the class of 2005’s graduation, the Enterprise wrote: “At age 19, through a special exception for students with head trauma, he was able to … complete his studies.”

    “From my experiences, I learned to recognize difficulties and take the right path to success,” Benson was quoted as saying.
    He veered off that path Friday.

    On Wednesday, he pleaded not guilty in Yolo Superior Court. He is being held in jail on $1 million bail. His lawyer, Steven C. Sabbadini, is seeking to have him moved to a locked mental health facility. That issue will be taken up Feb. 4.

    “He was more of a danger to himself than to others,” Sabbadini said, noting Benson had never been in trouble before.

    Yolo County authorities haven’t decided whether to divert Benson into the mental health system or pursue criminal charges. Given his arsenal, Benson could face years in this state’s troubled prisons, where 20 percent of the inmates suffer from serious mental illness.

    What led to Benson’s downward spiral and whether it was related to his head injury is not known. Nor is it known where he got the 30-round clips and AR-15, the semiautomatic version of the standard issue military weapon, the M-16.

    It has been illegal to buy or own an unregistered AR-15 in this state since 1989, when Gov. George Deukmejian signed legislation banning assault weapons in the wake of Patrick Purdy’s suicidal rampage that left five children dead at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton. The weapons are nonetheless easy to obtain. Drive over to one of the regular gun shows in Reno, find a private party, shell out $800 or $1,000 cash. No paperwork, no receipt, no record. Oversized magazines, illegal in this state, are even easier to pick up. You might get a volume discount, 10 for $150, or less.

    The fundamental unanswered question is what might have happened Friday in Davis if it weren’t for a frantic family’s worried phone call and fast work by police.

    No one tracks near misses. There are no statistics for horrible things that are averted. But this is certain: for every Patrick Purdy or Jared Lee Loughner, many more young men fighting demons get their hands on assault weapons and stop short of emptying 30-round magazines.

    © Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.[/quote]

  12. Mind_hunter53

    [quote]Drive over to one of the regular gun shows in Reno, find a private party, shell out $800 or $1,000 cash. No paperwork, no receipt, no record. [/quote]

    This is total BS — private firearm and gun show transfers are done through federal firearm licensees.

  13. Mind_hunter53

    [quote]Yolo County authorities haven’t decided whether to divert Benson into the mental health system or pursue criminal charges.[/quote]

    While he may need mental health treatment, his firearm violations — if true — in respect to possessing an illegal assault rifle and possessing loaded guns in a vehicle dictate a prison commitment.

  14. Bill Ritter

    The Davis Enterprise editorial:

    [quote]A real tragedy averted
    Our view | | January 29, 2011 22:34

    The issue: Our thanks go to distraught UCD student’s family and quick-thinking police officers for keeping us safe

    We’ll never know what might have happened if Nicholas Benson’s family hadn’t called 911 on Friday, Jan. 21. They reported that the 25-year-old UC Davis student was distraught and suicidal and that he was armed with a rifle and might intend to kill others.

    DAVIS POLICE mobilized instantly. After an intensive search, Benson was found standing next to his pickup truck at Fourth and A streets downtown. Police said Benson ignored officers’ commands to surrender and ran for his vehicle, so they used a Taser and a beanbag round to subdue him and take him into custody.

    A semiautomatic assault rifle with a telescopic sight, a loaded shotgun and hundreds of rounds of rifle ammunition were found in Benson’s truck.

    Thank goodness we were able to report last Sunday that what could have been a major tragedy – for Benson, police officers and innocent bystanders – had been averted. Much better to publish a headline on Page A2 that reads ‘Distraught student arrested; guns found’ than one on the front page that reads ‘Student dies in hail of gunfire; others killed and wounded.’

    ‘Friday nights in downtown Davis have to be among the busiest,’ a Davis resident wrote to The Enterprise last week. ‘Given the compactness of the area, the number of people present and the unthinkableness of such actions in our quiet town, it could have been very, very bad.

    ‘In one of the news reports, (Davis police Lt.) Paul Doroshov expressed his surprise that no one was dead, including Benson. As the mother of two sons who were downtown that night in different dining situations, I am also very thankful this situation turned out so well.’

    WHEN BENSON appeared in Yolo Superior Court on Wednesday to plead not guilty to weapons and resisting-arrest charges, his attorney asked that the court order a mental health evaluation for the young man, saying he poses more of a danger to himself than to the public. A transfer to a locked mental health facility ‘to get him evaluated and get him treated’ was requested.

    We hope Nicholas Benson is able to get the help he needs. Professionals know that serious mental illness often manifests itself in the 20s, and that early diagnosis and treatment can be very successful. Organizations like NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, are storehouses of information and support for both sufferers of mental illness and their families.

    (For more information on NAMI, visit http://www.namiyolo.org or call (530) 756-8181.)

    OUR SINCERE THANKS go to Benson’s courageous family, to our quick-thinking Davis police officers and to the mental health community for their efforts to keep all of us in Davis safe.[/quote]

  15. Mind_hunter53

    [quote]Not if he is unfit to stand trial or mentally incapacitated. [/quote]

    If unfit, he will be restored to competency in one of the state hospitals, then he will have to face the music — at least relative to the gun issues. It will be hard to show a man who is capable of attending UCD, and capable of purchasing an illegal assault weapon (if true), and capable of purchasing and loading ammunition in it, is mentally incapacitated to the level necessary to be not guilty by reason of insanity. He will be lucky if he only receives a year in county jail — more likely, he will go to prison (in my opinion).

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