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Judge: National Guardsman charged with threatening VP should stay behind bars

William Dunbar was once stripped of his service weapon because his commanding officers feared he was a threat to himself or fellow guardsmen

By David Hurst
The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

A Berlin man charged with threatening to kill Vice President Mike Pence was described by an FBI agent as an angry man with a violent streak, and a federal judge has ruled the man should remain behind bars until his trial.

In an 8-page opinion, U.S. District Kim R Gibson granted federal prosecutors' appeal to keep National Guardsman William Dunbar detained, writing that there is "clear and convincing evidence" that no (bail) conditions or combination of conditions would reasonably assure the safety of others.

Gibson made the decision following a detention hearing, where an FBI agent who investigated Dunbar's past said he was once stripped of his service weapon because his commanding officers feared he was a threat to himself or fellow guardsmen.

"(Dunbar) threatened to kill the vice president of the United States.

"Moreover, (he) made this threat while in uniform as a National Guardsman stationed on the very base where Vice President Pence would be arriving just days later," the judge wrote.

FBI Special Agent Keith Heckman told the court during a detention hearing last week that he interviewed three National Guard members who said they heard Dunbar's claims, others in the community who knew the man and Dunbar himself.

Pence visited the region Sept. 11 to mark the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and Flight's 93's crash near Shanksville.

Dunbar has been in jail for the past month, accused of threatening to kill Pence "if someone pays me enough."

Heckman said Dunbar offered several different versions of what he said about Pence at the base Sept. 8, at one point telling him he did not remember what he said.

He also allegedly told Heckman that he stated to fellow guardsmen that he'd only kill Pence if "another country paid him enough," the agent said during a detention hearing last week.

Heckman said he was given so many accounts by Dunbar about what was said that he didn't put much faith in the accuracy in any of them.

In Heckman's words, other people in the community who knew Dunbar described him as volatile -- with one saying he beat him so badly he put him in the hospital. He also described a criminal history that involved under-age incidents of assault and road rage.

And several people who talked to federal authorities indicated they feared Dunbar would retaliate against them if he learned they cooperated with authorities, Gibson wrote.

Dunbar's Somerset attorney, Matthew Zatko, questioned those statements, describing them as second- and third-hand reports from the FBI investigator by unnamed people.

He described his client as an active guardsman with no criminal record as an adult, and he urged the judge last week to follow the federal Pretrial Services recommendation that recommended Dunbar be released from prison.

Gibson mentioned the Pretrial Services recommendation in his memorandum, saying he rendered a different opinion because he had more information about Dunbar, specifically, Heckman's findings.

Zatko declined to comment about his reaction to Gibson's decision, saying only that it's "currently one we're stuck with."

As of Tuesday, it's too soon to say whether or not he will appeal that decision, he said.

Zatko said Dunbar will be entering a plea of "not guilty" to his charges.

A preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 19 before federal Magistrate Judge Keith Pesto.

(c)2017 The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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