Saunders bound over to District court on one Aggravated Assault charge; Bond continued

(Lander, Wyo.) – Former Riverton Police Department Captain Frisco Saunders, 42, has been bound over to the Ninth District Court for a single charge of felony Aggravated Assault and Battery. The charge alleges Saunders assaulted his ex-wife in a Riverton parking lot and attempted to run her over with his truck.

Circuit Court Judge Robert Denhardt continued Saunders’ $100,000 bond this afternoon. Denhardt did not bind Saunders over on a second Aggravated Assault and Battery Charge. Denhardt was hearing the Riverton Circuit Court case after Judge Wesley A. Roberts recused himself.

Read background on the case here.

In an unusual move, Denhardt called both attorneys to his chambers just before testimony in the hearing was to begin. When counsel and the judge emerged some minutes later, Denhardt noted that he had been involved in a protection order case involving the defendant a short time ago, and he asked Saunders directly if he wanted another judge to hear the case. After deliberating with his attorney Devon Peterson for a few minutes, Saunders sat upright and said, “We may proceed with you.”

Riverton Police Office Steven Sullivan, who had already been sworn in, then related the events of his call to the Riverton Senior Citizens Center on June 2 at 11:53 a.m. after Saunders’ ex wife, Tina, had called the RPD to report that Saunders had threatened to kill her and that he tried to run her over in the parking lot with his vehicle, which was a Chevrolet Suburban.

Fremont County and Prosecuting Attorney Michael Bennett pressed Sullivan for all the details of the call (explained in the background story), and then rested his case without calling another witness. In Saunders’ defense, Peterson had Sullivan draw a map for the court on a large whiteboard behind the witness stand that showed the scene of the alleged crime. Noting that Saunders’ side of the story was not included in the affidavit filed to support the charges, the defense attorney asked Sullivan what he did to contact his client. Sullivan said he tried to call Saunders’ cell phone, he stopped by his home and his place of employment, but was unable to contact him. He also said that he was unaware that Saunders was heading out of town.

Peterson questioned the physical layout of the parking lot and street access, inferring that Saunders could not have been traveling at an accelerated rate and still being able to negotiate a 90° turn onto South Third East. He also asked the officer what happened to the cart that the former Mrs. Saunders was said to be pushing when she allegedly jumped out of the way of his truck. Sullivan said he did not ask about the cart, and that the victim did not mention it.

In redirect, Bennett said the fact that Tina Marie Saunders had a large red welt on her arm nearly an hour after the incident was evidence that she was struck by the truck after an emotional and heated exchange between the two. In final argument, Bennett laid out why the state had met its burden to prove the allegation.

Peterson admitted that there had been a “tense exchange” between the former partners and he portrayed the state’s case as trying to make something out of nothing. “These exchanges happen every day all over the place,” he argued. “The state is trying to make more out if it than what occurred here.” Peterson said there was no proof of intent that Saunders tried to run over his ex-wife, and he referred to Sullivan’s drawing, saying the parking lot was narrow with only room for one vehicle to travel behind the parked cars. On Count 2, Peterson argued the state’s contention that by using his vehicle, Saunders was drawing a weapon. “Although it (the vehicle) could be a deadly weapon, it was not proven that he had drawn it. I submit there there is not probable cause.” He asked Judge Denhardt “to see it for what it is, not what the state wishes it was.”

Denhardt apparently agreed with that, and he did not bind the former Riverton Police Captain over on the second count.

When Peterson asked the court to reconsider the $100,000 bond and suggested it only be $10,000 because his client was not a flight risk, Denhardt took about 10 minutes to talk about the escalating dangers of domestic violence cases, and why a monetary penalty would not make a difference in preventing additional harm to a victim. “Men seem to have a tendency not to care what happens to them as long as they get what they want to do,” he said, noting that in the worst situations a man kills a woman, and then a child and then himself. A woman might kill a man, but not a child nor herself.

Speaking to his experience on the bench and his training, Denhardt said “defendants don’t pay attention to what a judge says, some do, and that’s wonderful, but it is not expected. In domestic violence relationships, and all the restraining orders I’ve done, about one third of them, before the ink is dry on the order, they are already making contact with the victim and I have to haul them back in and have a discussion with them. That kind of experience weighs heavily. Bond should be significant,” he said. “The nature of this offense charged is very serious and it’s a scary situation here due to the weight of the evidence against you.” Denhardt further said he was concerned over the domestic relationship of the man and his son and the man and his ex-wife.

“I will not amend the bond. You can file for reconsideration in District Court.”

With that the hearing was adjourned after 85 minutes and Saunders was returned to the Fremont County Detention Center.