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Ex-Chip Sarge on Way to Slam

Posted: February 12, 2008 12:21 p.m.
Updated: April 14, 2008 2:01 a.m.
 
SAN FERNANDO - Less than three weeks after being found guilty on all charges in connection with an altercation with a jogger in Canyon Country last year, retired CHP sergeant Dwight McDonald was sentenced to 60 days in jail on Monday.

In addition to the jail sentence, McDonald was ordered to do the following: serve three years' probation; undergo one year of mandatory anger management counseling; refrain from carrying a firearm for 10 years; pay a fine of $145 plus additional penalty assessments; and stay at least 100 yards away from the victim at all times.
A restitution hearing on April 16 will determine if the victim, Steve Gilbert will get any monetary compensation or other type of award.
The sentence passed in San Fernando Superior Court was made in connection with a case in which McDonald, 60, was accused of trying to hit 44-year-old Steve Gilbert of Valencia with his car after a disagreement over right-of-way.
Gilbert also alleged that McDonald drove onto the sidewalk in an attempt to hit him again, then sped away and returned moments later with a wooden stake, which he allegedly swung at Gilbert multiple times before driving away.
On Jan. 26 a jury found McDonald guilty on all of the counts he faced, which included two charges of brandishing, one charge of reckless driving, and one charge of assault with a deadly weapon, the automobile. The trial lasted approximately two weeks.
The jail sentence was imposed in connection with the two brandishing charges, which each carry a minimum sentence of 30 days. McDonald will serve both consecutively. His attorney requested that he be allowed to serve it in a private jail.
The other charges, which include assault with a deadly weapon and reckless driving, carry no statutory minimum jail time. However, the sentencing guidelines give judges the discretion to impose an appropriate sentence.
The sentence closely mirrored Deputy District Attorney Heather Borden's recommendations. Though she initially asked for a jail sentence twice as long as what was given, plus a six-month suspension of McDonald's driver's license, the judge imposed all the other conditions she requested.
After announcing the sentence, Judge Meredith Taylor reprimanded McDonald for his actions on March 8 of last year and told him that his conduct was unacceptable for a person of his standing.
"The words that struck me in the prosecutor's statement were 'you of all people,'" she said. "You were not acting as a trained officer on that day, you were acting as if you were in pursuit of vigilante justice. You were acting as if you were above the law. I hope that never happens again."
During the proceedings Monday, Gilbert gave a "victim impact statement" in which he described the fear he felt on that day and his hope that McDonald would pay dearly for his crimes.
"I beg the court to give you the maximum sentence," he said.
Ross Stucker, McDonald's attorney, maintained that his client meant no harm and that he is an upstanding member of the community.
"I have known this man for 40 years and I know his character," he said. "You will never meet a man of higher integrity."
After the hearing was over, Gilbert expressed relief that the ordeal was over but said that the sentence could have been harsher.
"I think it's a little light," he said. "But basically he got what he deserved."
The sentencing brought an end to an often contentious trial but did not end either party's speculation about the mental stability and reliability of the other, nor the accusations and counter-accusations over who did what to whom.
Outside the courtroom, Gilbert said that despite the sentence, he still feared McDonald. He said that he was not the only one, either.
Gilbert claimed that he and his wife talked to several of McDonald's neighbors after the incident, many of whom allegedly said that they were scared of him. He also pointed to a 2004 incident in which McDonald had an altercation with a driver who rear-ended him, though this incident was not brought up during the trial.
McDonald hired a private investigator during the pre-trial period in what Gilbert claims was an effort to smear him. The investigator allegedly followed Gilbert around in a van for weeks, talked to friends, neighbors and associates about his character and behavior, and dug into his past legal proceedings.
"He even went to our kids' school and questioned other parents, kids and teachers," Gilbert said. "That's when it got really scary."
The investigation managed to dig up a lawsuit between Gilbert and Disney, which Stucker said showed that Gilbert was unbalanced and litigious. Gilbert claims the suit was over a labor dispute that arose from a canceled contract and had no bearing on his character.
Gilbert, who works as a dolly grip in the film industry, said that the whole ordeal had been so stressful on him that he had started taking anti-anxiety medication. He added that he is even skittish now about running, which was previously one of his main passions.
And despite McDonald's insistence that he could not have hit Gilbert, nor chased him up the curb, nor brandished a stick at him in the way he claimed, Gilbert only had one thing to say.
"It was not just my word against his," he said. "It was him, and the witnesses, and the Sheriff's Department."
McDonald responded with an assertion that his arrest and prosecution were politically motivated, and that Gilbert has serious emotional problems and made false statements.
When McDonald ran for Santa Clarita City Council in 2006, part of his platform was a pledge to get rid of the Sheriff's Department and replace it with a city-run police department. He said that an incident in the past when he stopped a sheriff's deputy's wife for moving violations did not endear him to the department any more than his City Council platform.
"Was that behind the arrest?" he asked. "Maybe."
Stucker claimed that it seemed that sheriff's deputies had a grudge against McDonald. He said that when he went to bail McDonald out on the evening of his arrest, not only was he not allowed to do so at that time, but he also was not allowed to see his client. McDonald was also not told that Stucker was waiting to see him.
Most important, Stucker claimed, was the fact that the jury was not allowed to see more than 45 seconds of a 30-minute recorded interview between McDonald and sheriff's deputies.
"The jury made their decision based on what they were allowed to see," Stucker said. "That piece was taken out of context."
He claimed that the other 29 1/2 minutes of the tape showed evidence that would have exonerated McDonald, but the judge disallowed it without giving a specific reason.
Stucker said that the odds continued to stack against him when the judge also disallowed both defense witnesses and the private investigator from testifying, both of whom could have bolstered their case.
"To me it was unjust the way I was treated," McDonald said. "You're supposed to be innocent until proven guilty."
As for Gilbert's claim that witnesses backed up his version of events, McDonald was dismissive, particularly of Kathy McAlpine.
"McAlpine was 792 feet away from the scene and supposedly saw it in her rear view mirror," McDonald said. "She could not possibly have had a good view of what went on." He added that McAlpine, who talked to Gilbert immediately after the incident, seemed to parrot his statements and simply accepted his version of events without question.
And as for Gilbert's assertion that the 2004 rear-ender incident shows a tendency toward road rage, McDonald said that Gilbert mis-characterized the facts.
He explained that the woman who hit him, Elena Shishkin, initially stopped and talked to McDonald, but when he identified himself as an off-duty CHP officer, she fled in her vehicle. McDonald pursued her into a parking lot and used a specific driving maneuver to corner her and stop her vehicle.
He said that he did this not out of anger or revenge, but because his training as a CHP officer instinctively led him to pursue someone who was fleeing the scene of an accident.
McDonald said that it was this same instinct that led him to follow Gilbert on March 8, not a desire to hit him or run him down. In addition, he felt that he did not have the luxury of time, because he wanted to identify the man who had caused $1,600 damage to his car and who was in the process of running off into the distance.
"Should I have waited and called the Sheriff's Department?" McDonald asked. "The sheriff has too long a response time. It could have taken them two hours to get there."
He emphasized that the sheriff's report clearly states that no assault occurred, and confirms his claim that he only brandished the stick defensively.
The Signal's review of the incident report confirmed this. In it, a note reads: "Gilbert said McDonald never attempted to strike him with the stick."
Though he says it is in his nature to get involved, McDonald said he might do things differently if he were to encounter a similar situation in future.
"To what degree I will get involved, I don't know," he said. "I seem to be a s--- magnet."
Though he feels that the exclusion of the tape was a legal error on the judge's part and could be grounds for an appeal, Stucker does not plan to file one.
"We just want to put this behind us," he said.
McDonald is required to serve his 60-day sentence before June 10. Though he feels that the sentence was too severe considering that no one was actually hurt, he plans to just grin and bear it.
"The time does not fit the crime," he said. "But I've just gotta do it. I have no choice."


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