The attorney for a Texas Woman's University student arrested March 1 on a charge of making a terroristic threat has filed two motions that claim his client is being unlawfully held on an unreasonable bond and on an arrest affidavit that alleges no offense. Gillette
Christopher A. Gillette, 30, has been held in the Denton County Jail since he was arrested at a Dallas Veterans Affairs hospital that morning after he made emotional comments in a government class and then left.
TWU police took him to the jail on the charge, and a magistrate held him in lieu of $250,000 bail.
According to the Texas penal code, the offense is a Class B misdemeanor except in special circumstances that include placing the public or a substantial group in fear of serious bodily injury. In that case, the offense would be a third-degree felony.
Gillette said in an interview that night that he was expressing his outrage and frustration in his government class because he is in constant pain from two injuries he suffered while in the military. One occurred in Kosovo and the other in a stateside training accident. The VA offers him pain medication, he said, but he wants an end to the pain. He has made several pleas for help, including writing to U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, but so far he has not received the help he believes a veteran is due.
He told the Denton Record-Chronicle that he had no intention of hurting anyone at TWU and that he did not own any kind of weapon.
Fort Worth lawyer David Sloane is Gillette's attorney. He said his client did not commit a crime and that even if he did, $250,000 bail is oppressive.
The affidavit used to obtain the arrest warrant states that Gillette stood up in a classroom and said he was a veteran with the special skills needed to tear Washington, D.C., apart brick by brick.
"Gillette also said that he was so mad about not getting his benefits and in so much pain that he is 'jumping out of the back of a truck with an AK-47 mad,'" according to the court document. "He went on to say that he was unable to get help from his government and was very mad."
The statement alarmed other students, who called police. University police locked down the campus for an hour and a half, the document stated.
Sloane said Thursday that expressing an opinion is not making a threat.
"He said he was mad enough to jump out of the back of a truck with an AK-47," Sloane said. "He did not threaten to do that, and he did not threaten to harm anyone at TWU."
A writ of habeas corpus is a judicial mandate that demands that a prisoner be brought before the court to determine whether the government has the right to continue detaining him.
The amount of bond is a tool used to guarantee that the defendant will show up in court and is not supposed to be used as an instrument of oppression, Sloane said in an application for a writ. Normally, bond in this type of case would be set at between $500 and $2,500, he wrote. Gillette's bond is at least a hundred times greater than the normal amount, Sloane said.
The motions allege that the arrest warrant was issued with no probable cause.
"No offense has been alleged against the defendant in the charging affidavit because no offense has been committed," the motion reads. "Terroristic threat is a specific intent crime in our penal code. The threat must be made with the specific intent that it be taken as a threat. The words must be unequivocal, unconditional and specific as to convey a gravity of purpose and immediate prospect of execution.
"For someone to say 'I feel like' doing something, or 'I am so mad I could just' do something, especially while expressing emotionally charged feelings of severe pain, confusion and betrayal with no indication whatsoever of any immediate plans, means or intent to carry it out does not constitute a threat at all, and therefore speech in this context is not a crime."
Sloane said in the telephone interview that there are civil remedies that could help Gillette but they cannot be carried out while he is charged with a crime. He cannot be placed in a hospital to determine his mental status so long as he is deemed a criminal, he said.
"Instead of pursuing civil proceedings concerning the defendant in the appropriate probate court, they have jailed him on the flimsiest of criminal charges," he said. "If this young man needs to be anywhere, it is a hospital and not a jail. The Veterans Administration claims to offer at their hospital in-patient services from head to toe to treat service- and battle-related harm to their war veterans."
Sloane said Thursday that he believes that incarcerating a person for telling people his feelings and asking for help will discourage others with such issues from speaking out and getting help.
"I want our government to make good decisions," Sloane said. "I don't want them jailing people just for telling somebody what they are thinking. That's not going to enhance public safety."
DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.