BELLFLOWER — A Lakewood man accused of threatening to kill three public officials will undergo a psychiatric evaluation, his attorney said Tuesday.
Jack C. Guarino, 53, who for years has been at odds with Lakewood city officials over the condition of his Premiere Avenue property, was arrested by sheriff's deputies Jan. 18. He had allegedly left a death threat on the telephone answering machine of Richard Howland, a Press-Telegram reporter, earlier in the day.
Guarino, who identified himself on the tape, said: "I'm going to do a little killing," then named Norwalk Superior Court Judge Robert Higa, Assemblyman Willard H. Murray (D-Paramount), and Lakewood Assistant City Atty. Scott Nichols, officials said.
'Won't Have to Fire a Shot'
But in his rambling taped statement, he added, "I won't have to fire a shot. They'll do it all by themselves." Defense attorney Gregory Fisher contends that statement proves Guarino was speaking allegorically when he said that, among other things, the three officials "would die on the vine."
Guarino is charged with two felony counts of threatening state and county officials and one felony count of threatening a municipal official. If convicted, he could face up to 4 1/2 years in prison, Fisher said.
The attorney said he hoped the court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Kaushal Sharma, will conclude that Guarino is not suffering from violent tendencies. He said that after several interviews with Guarino, his client does not appear to be psychotic, or determined to kill the three officials as revenge for his problems with the city.
"A man who is intent on murder does not leave a message on a machine and then go to work," Fisher said. "There's no real evidence that he intended to kill anyone. If there is, nobody's found it."
"There is no argument that he said what he said," Fisher said. "It is just a matter of understanding what he meant."
Fisher said Guarino has been frustrated by the city's attempts to have him clean up his yard, which at one time contained almost a ton of used building supplies, discarded appliances and old lumber. He said he believed his client was referring to "politically killing" the three officials.
Guarino, a longtime City Hall critic who has twice run unsuccessfully for a council seat in Lakewood, said in recent interviews that he planned to try to recall the entire Lakewood City Council. He has been critical of city officials since he began fighting with city staff members over his plans to remodel his three-bedroom home near the Lakewood Mall several years ago.
Guarino spent five days in jail last April for disobeying a court order to clean up his yard. He faced another hearing before Judge Higa on Jan. 19, and could have faced another short jail sentence for disobeying a court order. Instead, he was arraigned Jan. 19 in Municipal Court on charges stemming from the alleged threats, and was ordered held on $100,000 bail, an amount that attorney Fisher described as "excessive." Guarino's wife, Kay, said that the family had no money to post bail for her husband's release.
'Henchman of Lakewood'
Guarino has accused City Atty. Nichols of being the "Henchman of Lakewood" for his part in pressing for court orders to clean up the yard. Guarino apparently included Murray on the list of alleged targets because the lawmaker did not intervene strongly on his behalf, Murray aide Eddie Robb said.
"It's a very unfortunate situation for all parties," Robb said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "When Mr. Murray tried to assist, (Guarino) apparently did not think that it was adequate enough." Guarino once praised Murray for successfully unseating Republican Paul Zeltner, a one-time Lakewood councilman, in the November election.
Guarino, under orders from Fisher, was not available to comment on the charges. But Kay Guarino, in a telephone conversation, said her husband was only referring to efforts to have the judge removed from the bench, to discredit attorney Nichols and to recall Murray.
During a short hearing Tuesday afternoon in Los Cerritos Municipal Court in Bellflower, Guarino was ordered to return Feb. 17 for a preliminary hearing. The results of the psychiatric examination are expected to be submitted at that time, officials said.
Read During Hearing
As attorneys discussed the case before Commissioner Leland H. Tipton, Guarino, handcuffed and wearing blue overalls, sat quietly in the jury box reading a copy of "The Power of Positive Thinking." In his chest pocket he carried a pamphlet titled "Honesty Is Still in Style."
Guarino was arrested in 1980 on charges of felony assault and in 1984 on charges of carrying a concealed handgun, Deputy Timothy Blackburn said. Charges were dropped in both cases.
Deputies searched Guarino's house Jan. 20, two days after the arrest, and confiscated three hunting rifles, a .22 caliber pistol and several boxes of ammunition, Blackburn said.
Reporter Howland, who covers Lakewood and Bellflower for the Press-Telegram, said he immediately contacted his editor when he heard the message. The editor then called the Lakewood sheriff's station, which sent deputies to arrest Guarino and to protect the three officials.