Five Chukchansi tribal police officers on Friday pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor trespassing charge for their role in an October raid at the tribe’s Madera County casino.
The guilty pleas were part of an agreement with prosecutors. If the men stay away from the casino and do not get arrested in the coming year, their records will be expunged. As part of the agreement, 29 felony charges were dropped by prosecutors.
“The key is that 29 felony counts, for kidnapping, false imprionment and assault with a deadly weapon, are all dismissed,” said Fresno attorney Mark Coleman, who represented the five men.
Pleading guilty were Brian Auchenbach, Timothy Tofaute, Benjamin Rhodes, Shawn Fernández and David Dixon.
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At the same time, three others rejected the deal, so their cases will move toward trial. Those three, along with former Tribal Council Treasurer Vernon King, are the final four defendants remaining from the incident.
Rejecting the proposed deal were John Cayanne, Ron Jones and Jim Glasscock. They will return May 29 to Madera County Superior Court where their preliminary hearing dates will be set. A preliminary hearing will also likely be set that same day for King.
Because they passed on the plea deal, the offer is now off the table, Madera County District Attorney David Linn said.
“They’re done,” he said. “No more deal.”
They face a maximum potential of 30 years in prison, Linn added.
On Oct. 9, armed tribal members and tribal police representing the Tex McDonald faction entered the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino in search of missing documents to complete late audits, and holed up in the tribal gaming commission office. As they entered, they squared off with security guards representing a rival tribal faction. The incident resulted in a casino closure order the following day by U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill. It is still closed.
Eventually, McDonald and 14 others involved in the confrontation were charged with multiple felonies.
With Friday’s plea deals before Madera County Superior Court Judge Dale Blea, only four defendants remain.
Coleman said the three men who rejected the plea deal understand the risks.
“These men have two concerns,” said Coleman, who represents Jones and Glasscock. Cayanne will be assigned a public defender. “One, it is a matter of honor for them. They believe they were lawfully appointed police officers. They have exemplary records. They feel it would betray their beliefs and they could not look their kids in the eye and say ‘We compromised’ on something like this. They say it’s just too difficult for them to compromise.”
In addition, the men are concerned about getting future work because while the tresspassing charge may be expunged after a year, their arrest records wouldn’t.
Linn said he had no control over the arrest record. It was, he said, a matter for the Madera County Sheriff’s Department, which made the arrests.
Coleman said the men feel strongly enough about it to take their chances with a trial.
“They understand the risks,” Coleman said, “and there are, indeed, great risks going forward.”