Tehama County judge offers mixed verdict in gun case
Melissa Jones is guilty of making terrorist threats, not guilty of assault with a firearm
Barry Clausen sat on the witness stand and described a string of events that ended in a parking lot with him holding a gun over his head and a former co-worker sitting in her car with blood on her face and shirt.
No, Clausen didn’t shoot the woman. Actually, she threatened to shoot him. That much was proven in the Tehama County Courthouse last Thursday (April 1).
The woman was Melissa Lynn Jones, and the incident—previously described in the CN&R’s Oct. 8, 2009, cover story, “Sex, drugs and guns”—occurred exactly a year and a day before she went to trial. She waived her right to a jury, and thus the facts of the case were heard by Judge Dennis Murray, who found Jones guilty of making terrorist threats but not guilty of assault with a firearm, as the firearm was not loaded when she pointed it at Clausen.
A variety of witnesses, from police officers to Jones’ former co-workers, helped paint a picture of what happened on the afternoon of March 31, 2009. Despite a few inconsistencies in testimony, it’s safe to say that the account that follows is accurate.
In the months before the incident, Jones’ demeanor had changed; she seemed angrier, said Ann Houghtby, mental-health director for Tehama County. She had been aware that Jones feared for her safety, but not because of Clausen, she specified, as Jones’ attorney, Michael Erpino, tried to suggest Clausen had been stalking her before their meeting.
Clausen had been working on an article for the Sacramento Valley Mirror on alleged sexual misconduct on the part of employees in the Tehama County Juvenile Justice Center, where Jones worked as a counselor. He’d made several attempts to contact Jones by telephone, to no avail. So he finally dropped off a note at her office, the Tehama County Department of Mental Health.
“She called me and talked to me, but I couldn’t understand where she wanted me to go,” Clausen said, referring to a meeting they’d set up. So he drove to her workplace and met her in the parking lot.
“I said, ‘Are you going to give me an interview?’ and she said, ‘Yes, follow me,’ ” Clausen said. He followed her SUV to a nearby church parking lot.
“I asked her, ‘How was your meeting with Dan Emry?’ ” Clausen said. Emry was chief probation officer at the time, overseeing the juvenile hall. The story Clausen was working on involved female employees engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct with minors in the facility and a male guard physically abusing the kids.
“While he was trying to interview Ms. Jones, she wasn’t making much sense, so he went to leave,” Officer Jerry Fernandez of the Red Bluff Police Department recalled from his interview with Clausen a year ago. “He heard something behind him, turned, and saw Ms. Jones holding a firearm at his head. She said something like, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ ”
At this point, Clausen moved out of the way and grabbed the gun, a .45-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol. There was a struggle before Clausen was able to gain control of the weapon. When Jones came at Clausen with fists, he swung the gun in defense and struck her in the head. Clausen then dialed 9-1-1 and walked to the other end of the parking lot.
Enter the police. Fernandez pulled over next to Clausen, who was holding the gun above his head. Sgt. Dan Flowerdew attended to Jones, who was later brought to the hospital for her injuries.
Fernandez judged that the firearm was not loaded and confirmed it was Jones’, as she had a box of ammunition, a second magazine and a speed loader, as well as a case for the gun, in her SUV.
Erpino didn’t try to challenge the fact that Jones had indeed pointed a gun at Clausen in the parking lot that day. What he did challenge, however, was the felony charge that she’d assaulted Clausen with a firearm.
“Pointing an empty weapon at someone, which is what happened here, is a brandishing,” he said.
Murray agreed and found Jones not guilty of the first count.
As for making terrorist threats, however, she was found guilty, despite Erpino’s assertion that Clausen did not feel sustained fear, as he was able to gain control of the gun.
“Mr. Clausen was in fear,” Murray said. “The fear was sustained or he would not have had to take the firearm from Ms. Jones.”
Jones will be sentenced May 24.
“This is what I wanted all along,” Erpino said following the trial.
As for Clausen, he’s happy it’s over. Now he’ll focus on the civil case he filed against Jones for the flare-ups of his post-traumatic-stress disorder and an old shoulder injury following the incident.
What really gets his goat, though, is that the Tehama County District Attorney’s Office, which was investigating the alleged misconduct at juvenile hall, shut the case in March, citing insufficient evidence.
“There was no investigation about the juvenile hall. There are still many staff members that have not been interviewed,” Clausen said. “As far as I am concerned it is just another piece of Tehama County corruption.”