Custody Status Contingent on Gun Location; Creates Court Debate

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By Ramneet Singh

WOODLAND, CA – A domestic abuse case that involved retrieving a firearm from an in-custody suspect turned into an exercise of near futility here this week in Yolo County Superior Court—an entire discussion ensued on how to obtain the weapon from the suspect if he was in jail.

Obtaining the firearm is key to the release of Aaric Justin Gatchel, said Judge Tom Dyer, who added that the weapon was not yet retrieved from the victim.

Deputy Public Defender Richard Van Zandt represented Gatchel, but since he was not at the last court session, Judge Dyer presented the basic elements of the case, describing it as a “choking incident” and noted Gatchel allegedly threatened the victim.

He noted there are “two guns, one of which has been removed, but now you’ve got a Sig Sauer as part of the environment.”

According to the court records, Gatchel is charged with “corporal injury on spouse/cohabitant,” involving “false imprisonment with violence or force” on Sept. 26.

At the start of the court proceedings, Dyer stated, “We’re on today to get a review of the firearm surrender from two days ago.” He noted that for Gatchel’s release, the firearm “needed to be secured, removed.”

Dyer directed attention to Probation Officer Whitten, who confirmed that, due to an inability to communicate with the victim, there was no knowledge of the gun’s location.

After a pause to collect information, PD Van Zandt stated that “according to Mr. Gatchel’s mother, the complaining witness in the case has the firearm and Mr. Gatchel will not be living there.”

Deputy District Attorney Deanna Hays stated that “we have no problem with Mr. Gatchel being OR’ed, if the firearm that is his personal, registered property is turned over.” She stated that was the original court decision.

Van Zandt presented the “perfect solution,” noting “there’s a no contact with the property where the gun is located and Mr. Gatchel is not to possess any firearms…while the case is pending.”

Judge Dyer stated he was “concerned about these underlying circumstances. I also have a victim who possesses the gun right now,” and in response, Van Zandt inquired about how the gun would be acquired.

The probation officer responded that Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira would try to “get in contact with the victim, that her client stated” the gun was in the backpack of the victim.

PO Whitten continued, “[W]e’re still right where we’re at with the victim’s statement and family being really concerned about her safety, as well as she’s concerned about her safety, but she doesn’t care if she dies.”

The judge wanted to clarify these last statements.

PD Van Zandt asked “if we could extricate ourselves from this apparent Catch 22 situation.” Based on his knowledge, he did not see the victim to be “uncooperative…there has to be reasonable means for…Mr. Gatchel to have the ability to reasonably comply with the court orders.”

With the position of the court, Judge Dyer suggest “(Gatchel) can give her a call, it’s a no harassment order,” meaning he can contact her as long as it is friendly.

Van Zandt noted that as the legal possessor of the firearm, Gatchel could “authorize probation” to take the firearm. Whitten responded that probation could not.

Van Zandt asked “if he had search terms and he’s OR’ed, wouldn’t probation have authority to go in there?” Officer Whitten stated “not necessarily…we would refer back to local law enforcement.”

Van Zandt asked for the release of Gatchel “with a GPS.” Dyer denied the request, and set bail at $30,000.

After going off the record, PD Van Zandt asked for clarification. He wanted to know if “court orders” related to “supervised OR,” and Judge Dyer confirmed this and stated release is possible “before next Wednesday,” if the gun is found.

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