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Ex-officer bound over on aggravated assault charge

Ex-officer bound over on aggravated assault charge

Jun 13, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Police say Frisco Saunders, 42, drove his GMC Suburban at his ex-wife Tina Saunders after the two argued.

A former Riverton police officer's aggravated assault case is moving to District Court after Lander Circuit Court Judge Robert B. Denhardt bound it over on Wednesday.

The judge, however, dropped one of the two charges against the defendant.

An arraignment in District Court has not been set yet for the defendant, Frisco Saunders, 42. Denhardt kept his bond at $100,000, likely ensuring he will stay in jail for now.

Police say Saunders drove his GMC Suburban at his ex-wife Tina Saunders after the two argued June 2 , striking her with the side-view mirror as she leapt out of the way.

Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett charged Saunders with two counts of aggravated assault. He said Saunders's actions added up to aggravated assault in two ways, and so charged him with the two counts. The defendant could have been convicted of just one of the charges, however, because the fifth amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that a person cannot be convicted of the same crime twice. Two charges give prosecutors more options in proving a case.

Denhardt bound over the first charge of aggravated assault but not the second, leaving prosecutors with one route to a conviction.

During the June 11 preliminary hearing, Riverton Police Department patrol officer Stephen Sullivan described the evidence against Frisco Saunders. Tina Saunders reported the incident shortly before noon on May 2, Sullivan said, and he responded.

She told the officer she and her ex-husband were exchanging custody of their 11-year-old son in the parking lot of her work, the Riverton Senior Citizens Center, at about 11 am. that day. They argued, and Frisco Saunders threatened to kill her and her boyfriend, she said.

The boy had gone inside the building, and as Tina Saunders walked away from the defendant, she heard his engine rev and then accelerate from behind. She moved quickly to her right and was struck on her left upper arm as the vehicle passed, she believes with its side view mirror.

Tina Saunders saw the vehicle turn left and into a short driveway and left again and saw and heard her ex-husband at the wheel screaming obscenities at her as he drove away, according to Sullivan.

The officer saw a red welt on her arm about eight inches long and three inches wide during their conversation roughly an hour after the alleged incident.

Public defender Devon Petersen argued that evidence presented did not show Frisco Saunders intended to hurt his ex-wife with his actions. The lane in the parking lot they were on was only wide enough for one vehicle, and was one way, he said, pointing to Sullivan's testimony to that effect. The defendant may have only been trying to leave, he claimed.

"He may or he may not have hit her, but there's been no evidence he tried to hit her," Petersen said.

Bennett said case law demonstrates that intent can be inferred from the use of a deadly weapon, such as a motor vehicle.

Petersen also argued that the way the second charge of aggravated assault was worded, it required his client to have drawn a deadly weapon, an action impossible with an automobile.

Ultimately, Denhardt dropped that second charge but thought enough evidence was presented to support the first.

Petersen asked for a bond of $10,000 cash, saying his client could post that amount. Saunders was not a flight risk, the lawyer said, and the bond would keep him from harming anyone in the community.

Denhardt disagreed, and kept the bond at $100,000 cash.

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