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Orange County

Judge Drops O.C. Teacher's Threat Charges

Courts: San Clemente educator's case is dismissed. He told hospital staff he felt like killing his bosses.


An Orange County judge dismissed all charges Friday against a San Clemente high school teacher who was arrested in February after telling hospital workers he felt like killing his supervisors.

The decision, which came over the objections of prosecutors who had charged teacher Frank Gardner with making a terrorist threat, marked the close of an unusual case that centered on threats made by a patient to medical personnel. The judge's ruling is in line with a decision last month by a state court of appeal, which held that patients cannot be prosecuted for expressing threats in a medical setting.

Frank Gardner, who spent two months in jail after his arrest, said he was glad the episode was behind him.

"I'm relieved. I could have been [sent to] jail for having a nervous breakdown and going to my doctor. That's terrible," Gardner said.

Gardner had been prosecuted under a California law that makes it a crime to threaten others with violence. At one point, he was held on $500,000 bond before a judge lowered the bail.

Gardner's lawyer, Stephen Klarich, said the decision was significant because it underscores that people who feel like harming others can seek treatment--and express their feelings--without fear of prosecution.

"This applies to more than just Frank. What it means is if you are having these bad thoughts, evil thoughts, thoughts of harming people . . . you can seek help," Klarich said.

Gardner was arrested after telling staff at an Orange County hospital that he felt like taking his gun and killing his supervisors. The teacher told hospital officials he was angry because the supervisors had unfairly disciplined him.

Before the case could go to trial, a Los Angeles court of appeal overturned the conviction of a jail inmate who'd been prosecuted for telling a jail psychologist he wanted to harm his girlfriend. The court held that people who feel like killing might not seek therapy if they knew they could be prosecuted.

Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Mike Fell argued that the case did not apply because Gardner expressed his threat to a nurse, not a therapist. But Judge Robert R. Fitzgerald disagreed.

"The case is on point. Mr. Gardner was at the hospital seeking help. . . . This defendant overreacted and needs some anger-management control," the judge said before sending Gardner off with this warning: "Get yourself under control."

For more than two decades, therapists in California have been required to report threats of violence to the intended victims. But Orange County prosecutors argued Gardner could also be charged with making the threats, even if he didn't make them directly to the subject.

Gardner, 50, who agreed to give up his job after his arrest, said he was devastated by the arrest and prosecution. A resident of San Clemente for 22 years, Gardner said many in his town are aware of his plight.

"It's embarrassing. I tend not to go out. . . . I was made out to be crazy. I've never been in a psychiatric hospital in my life," he said. "I've been able to barely hold on with the help of a few friends."

School officials who were once the target of Gardner's threats declined to comment. Gardner said he's not sure what his future will hold, but he may consider trying to resume his teaching career at a different school.

"It's really sad," he said. "I was a good teacher. And I loved it."

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