Plea deal ends standoff

Published 9:53 pm Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The man who spent a day last June locked in a standoff with local law enforcement was sentenced to a year of supervised probation Tuesday.

In a plea agreement reached with the state, Joseph Gary Gautier plead guilty to a class one misdemeanor of communicating threats, as well as discharging a weapon within city limits, a violation of Washington’s city code and considered a class two misdemeanor. The maximum sentence for both charges carried a 180-day sentence.

Wearing a button-down shirt and jeans, long hair pulled back into a neat ponytail, the 34-year-old Gautier stood besides his parents as the plea agreement was outlined by Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr.

District Attorney Seth Edwards summarized the widely reported incident of June 15, 2011, describing Gautier’s phone call to police saying “he needed help,” then how the call eventually deteriorated into Gautier’s threat he would kill anyone who responded to his E. 12th Street home. The Washington Police Department, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, the State Bureau of Investigation and representatives with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives all responded to what ended up being a nine-hour lockdown of the neighborhood.

It was during Gautier’s initial phone conversation with police that the communicating threats charge originated. Later, Gautier came outside his home and fired a shot into the ground and one into the air — a city code violation. In the plea agreement, the state dismissed a false bomb threat charge stemming from Gautier’s claim that his house was booby-trapped.

“Much of the state’s consideration (for the plea agreement) has to do with some mental health issues going on at the time with Mr. Gautier,” said Edwards.

Gautier’s defense lawyer, Leslie Robinson, said the incident was caused by a combination of factors — unemployment, prescription medications and alcohol —resulting in Gautier being committed that day to then-Beaufort Regional Health System. Since, Gautier has completed drug and alcohol counseling and has been in full compliance with programs recommended by his doctor, said Robinson.

“We’ve seen Gary make great strides,” said Fonda Gautier, Gary Gautier’s mother. “I think he has changed by the grace of God.”

When asked by Sermons if he’d like to say anything to the court, Gautier replied, “I’m just trying to do straight, Your Honor. Trying to get back to work and carry on.”

Sermons placed a few conditions on Gautier’s 12 months of probation, among them continued medical evaluation and use of no controlled substances other than prescription medication. Gautier’s six to eight guns, seized that day and still in the possession of Washington police, will be released to Gautier’s mother. Gautier’s guns can be returned to him when he completes probation.

“I think it benefits everyone for a period of time that he not have access to those firearms,” said Sermons.

“What happened (June 15), no matter how it was handled, could have escalated into something that could have been far more dangerous.”