Update: Bret Landen ordered to pay 235k in restitution to Atascadero School District
Update posted Oct. 18, 2017
Bret Landen, the teenager whose Saw movie-style threats closed San Gabriel Elementary for two weeks in 2015, has been ordered to pay the Atascadero Unified School District about $235,000, according to reports.
Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy ruled that Bret Stephen Landen of Atascadero owes the district $235,341 for costs and lost revenues related to the incident. The district had originally sought roughly $476,000, including the costs for installing security fencing at two other district schools.
Update posted June 1, 2016:
Update: Bret Landen sentenced to one year in county jail
Atascadero school district, San Gabriel teachers read statements at hearing
–Several tearful statements were read into the record Wednesday, June 1 at the sentencing for Bret Landon who was found guilty, by way of him pleading no contest, to two felony charges: threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction, and criminal threats regarding crimes that were committed at San Gabriel Road Elementary School in Atascadero on Sept. 11, 2015.
He was sentenced by Judge John Trice to one year in county jail, with his time starting when he surrendered himself into custody in early May. The agreement between Landen and the District Attorney’s office includes restraining orders for San Gabriel Road Elementary and 27 people, the people who were personally addressed by Landen with letters and “presents.” A few of those people were among those who read statements into the record.
Though Judge Jacqueline Duffy has been the judge presiding over the case, she had a trial taking place at the same time on Wednesday, so all cases in Department 1 were transferred to Trice in Department 6.
“I can send it back to her if you want,” Trice said, but added that he would “honor her recommendation.”
Landen’s attorney, Jeffrey Stein, said they were ready to move forward. San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Matt Kraut agreed. “We’d like to get this going,” he said.
As ordered by Duffy at the hearing in April, Landen was sentenced to one year in county jail, and then will be on felony probation for five years on his release. If he violates any terms of his probation, he will be sentenced up to six years eight months at a state prison. He will be required to undergo counseling to address what caused him to commit the crimes. He will be required to make financial restitution to the Atascadero Unified School District, and other victims of his crimes. He will appear on Aug. 31 at 8:30 a.m. for a hearing on restitution.
Atascadero Unified School District Superintendent Tom Butler was the first to read a statement about the effects Landen’s actions has had on the district, the school, staff and students.
“Throughout this time, the Atascadero Unified School District Trustees have been fully united in their positions that the full weight of the law be imposed upon Bret Landen for his horrific, intentional and calculated attack on the students, staff and parents of San Gabriel Elementary School,” Butler said to the court. “The Atascadero Unified School District Trustees fully expect the American Justice System to deliver the most severe sentence possible for Bret Landen. Bret Landen has earned these severe consequences for his deliberate and harm intended actions.”
Assistant Superintendent of Resources Curt Eichperger read a statement from San Gabriel elementary’s secretary, Debbie Cardinale, who was the first at the school in the early morning.
“Our security has been violated,” she wrote. “Why would you want to frighten innocent children.”
San Gabriel Principal Shauna Ames, first-grade teacher Melinda Reaney, first-grade teacher Carol Leoni-Simpson, second-grade teacher Dani Newton and PTA President Jodie Cohen also spoke about how this crime affected them, their families, their students and their school.
“I was very afraid,” Leoni-Simpson said. “For a very long time I felt like a target. … The emotional damage you have done to us is difficult to put into words.”
Reaney said that she had nightmares resulting from this incident.
“For weeks after the incident, I questioned everything … am I safe? Are my family members safe? Bret Landen robbed me and the entire San Gabriel community of our sense of safety. … Bret’s ‘prank’ will have long lasting personal effects on all of us.”
While several mentioned they had heard of Landen’s intelligence and while they wanted him punished severely, they also wanted, and hoped, that he could be rehabilitated and become a contributing member of society.
“Today, I ask you to help protect our children from someone who deliberately tried to hurt them,” Cohen said.
“Please get the help you need,” said Newton, who was only 16 days into her teaching career when the incident occurred.
The judge agreed with the struggle between too hard of a punishment and too light of a punishment.
“This case really probably affected Atascadero more than any other case I’ve seen since I’ve lived here,” Trice said. “It’s so twisted, it’s hard to understand this. It’s just a terrorist — that what it is. What’s the answer? … The real impact of this is … you can see what an awful act like this can do to [the teachers], the students and the community.”
Stein said that Landen is deeply affected by what the teachers said and the impact that his actions had.
“He deeply feels remorse,” Stein said. “He accepts the deep price he owns their team. He will prove it by his behavior.”
Statement from Tom Butler, Atascadero Unified School District Superintendent:
Attention Court Representative,
The horrific crime that took place on September 11, 2015, at San Gabriel Elementary School had a far-reaching and significant impact on the Atascadero Unified School District. This impact was felt by the students, staff, parents and the greater community of Atascadero.
Due to the terrorist threats and chemical object determined by the FBI to be a weapon of mass destruction, the San Gabriel Elementary School campus was evacuated and school was canceled for the entire day on September 11, 2015. This clearly had a significant and direct impact on the 574 students and 68 staff members at San Gabriel Elementary School. The same negative impact of evacuation and school closure was felt by the San Gabriel West facility (Medical Therapy Unit) provided on the campus. In addition, based on the recommendations of County Health experts, Hazardous Material experts, Law Enforcement and Fire Agencies the campus was closed for an additional two weeks. The two-week closure was necessary in order to assure there was no chemical threat on the campus.
The two-week closure of the campus placed a severe burden on the Atascadero Unified School District. The district was able to mobilize and with an extensive cost of overtime hours for employees, create temporary housing at three of our other school sites. This resulted in increased cost to the district for counseling services, transportation services and food services. Clearly, the real emotional impact was felt by the students, parents and staff who were displaced for a two week period.
This attack did instill fear and terror into the Atascadero Unified School District community. The incident has caused a significant negative impact on the social, emotional and mental health of our students, staff, parents and community members.
Throughout this time, the Atascadero Unified School District Trustees have been fully united in their positions that the full weight of the law be imposed upon Bret Landen for his horrific, intentional and calculated attack on the students, staff and parents of San Gabriel Elementary School. The Atascadero Unified School District Trustees fully expect the American Justice System to deliver the most severe sentence possible for Bret Landen. Bret Landen has earned these severe consequences for his deliberate and harm intended actions.
Our Board of Trustees would like to thank the staff of the School District for their heroic performances and efforts surrounding this crime. In addition, the Atascadero Unified School District thanks all of the first responders for their service and specifically recognizes the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Atascadero Police Department for their outstanding efforts in bringing Bret Landen to justice.
In closing, this horrible crime has severely damaged the educational process in the Atascadero Unified School District. The school district serves 4,708 students and the negative impact on student learning must be considered in this case. Our country is built on the educational system that is the vehicle of opportunity for our citizens — this deliberate attack on our school halted the educational process. Through the positive attitude of our students, the partnership with our parents, the talent of our staff and leadership of our Board of Trustees, we were able to overcome the obstacles this incident presented, to deliver a world-class education, resulting in the best students in the nation.
Update posted April 20:
Bret Landen enters ‘no contest’ pleas, will receive one year in jail
–Atascadero teenager Bret Landen pled “no contest” to two felony charges: threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction and criminal threats in court this morning. Both crimes were committed at San Gabriel Road Elementary School in Atascadero on Sept. 11, 2015. They were part of an elaborate preplanned incident committed by Landen, according to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s office.
On March 8, Landen pleaded “not guilty” to 30 felony counts filed against him in December 2015. The charges include 27 counts of making threats to commit a crime of violence, two counts of second-degree commercial burglary and one count of threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction. In court, the DA’s office dropped all but two counts. Judge Jacquelyn Duffy reminded Landen, as she did other defendants that morning, that he still would be responsible for any restitution for counts that were dropped.
“Mr. Landen and The People agree that he’s going to enter a plea that will resolve the case,” Stein said.
Landen will be sentenced to one year in county jail, and then will be on felony probation on his release. He will be required to undergo counseling to address what caused him to commit the crimes. He will be required to make financial restitution to the Atascadero Unified School District, and other victims of his crimes.
Duffy advised Landen that if he enters the plea of “no contest,” it will be the same as pleading guilty and he gives up his right to a preliminary hearing or a trial with a jury of his peers. He said that he understood and agrees to those terms.
If Landen violates the terms of his probation, he could be sentenced to a state prison for up to six years and eight months.
The judge also amended a previous order that prohibits from entering any school campus to add the exception of Saddleback College, which offers online classes as well as classes at its Mission Viejo campus in Southern California.
“The District Attorney’s Office would like to express its appreciation for the excellent work by all of the law enforcement agencies involved in this case, particularly the Atascadero Police Department, and would like to publicly recognize the heroism of the faculty and staff at San Gabriel Elementary School, who maintained calm and order in the face of the sudden need to evacuate the young students from their campus on the day Mr. Landen committed these crimes,” District Attorney Dan Dowsaid following the plea. “Our community should find comfort in the fact that our children’s physical and emotional safety is ensured by such fine teachers and staff members.”
Landen will be sentenced on Wednesday, June 1 at 8:30 a.m. in Department 1 in the SLO County Superior Court. This case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Matthew Kraut.
Update from March 17:
Next pre-pretrial meeting is set for April 20
–Earlier this week concern erupted when it was reported that Cuesta College had issued a release concerning Bret Landen, 18, the man charged with making threats to commit a crime at San Gabriel Road Elementary School in Atascadero in September 2015. Judge Jacky Duffy addressed the issue at the pre-pretrial hearing today.
“Understandably, there is concern about the safety of our students, faculty and staff. Student safety is of the utmost priority at Cuesta College and there has been coordinated efforts made to respond to this issue by the Office of the College Superintendent/President, the Office of the Assistant Superintendent/Vice President of Student Services/Campus Centers and Campus Police and College Safety Services,” the press release from the community college read. The statement was released last Thursday.
Though Landen was ordered by Duffy to stay away from any school, it specifically excluded any county-run school from the court order. During the pre-pretrial hearing, Landen’s attorney, Jeffrey Stein, said that Landen will voluntarily not enroll in any school while the case is open. Landen had enrolled in Cuesta College in January and has since dropped out.
“We made the determination that it is in the best interest of everyone … that he will not attend any college at this time,” Stein said. Landen agreed to not enroll in any school and the judge approved the district attorney’s request to expand the order to include “any school while the case pending.”
He pled not guilty last week to charges that include 27 counts of making threats to commit a crime of violence, two counts of second-degree commercial burglary and one count of threatening to use a weapon on mass destruction.
He remains released on bail, which is family posted at $500,000. The next pre-pretrial meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 20 at 8:30 a.m. in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, Department 4 in downtown San Luis Obispo.
Update from March 8, 2016:
Next pretrial meeting is set for March 16
–Bret Landen, 18, returned to court Monday morning for his third arraignment date before Judge Jackie Duffy. He pleaded not guilty to 30 felony counts filed against him in December 2015. The charges include 27 counts of making threats to commit a crime of violence, two counts of second-degree commercial burglary and one count of threatening to use a weapon on mass destruction.
Though Landon was ordered to surrender his passport and was prohibited from leaving the state, Duffy approved Landen to travel to Florida for two weeks in early April with his mother, according to a report in The Tribune. Duffy stipulated that Landen must remain in his mother’s company at all times.
Additionally, there is a temporary restraining order in place that orders Landen to stay at least 100 yards from any school, except for Chalk Mountain Community School. He also is not allowed to make contact with 27 named teachers and administrators at San Gabriel Road Elementary School. According to the report, Duffy is prohibited from possessing any weapons.
He remains released on bail, which is family posted at $500,000. The next pretrial meeting will be held on March 16 in San Luis Obispo Superior Court in downtown San Luis Obispo.
Update from Jan. 26, 2016:
Bret Stephen Landen posted bail and remains out of custody
–Bret Landen, an 18-year-old who will stand trial for charges of making threats against San Gabriel Elementary School on Sept. 11 of 2015, went before San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Jackie Duffy Monday morning for further arraignment.
Landen addressed the judge along with his attorney, Jeffrey Stein. Stein requested that the arraignment be continued until March to give the attorney, who’s newly representing Landen, time to look at a way to address the case.
“In recognition of how much distress this incident has caused the community, [we want] to move forward sensitively,” Stein said. “We’re looking at ways to contribute positively in regards to the case.”
Opposing counsel agreed to the continuance and Duffy continued the arraignment until Tuesday, March 8.
Landen posted a $500,000 bail at the end of 2015, and will remain out of custody for the time being.
Update from Dec. 16, 2015:
Suspect in threats against school identified as Bret Stephen Landen
Judge rules suspect charged with San Gabriel school incident be tried as an adult
–San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Lee Cunningham released the name of a teen being charged with making threats against San Gabriel Elementary School on Sept. 11 that forced the school to close for two weeks.
On Tuesday, Cunningham reports that Judge Jackie Duffy ruled that the suspect, 18-year-old Bret Stephen Landen, be tried as an adult. Landen was 17-years-old at the time of the alleged crimes.
Landen, appeared to have been conducting a sort of, “game” with the teachers, much like the movie “Saw.” Police said the suspect’s actions appear to have been designed to evoke fear and panic. There were initially two charges being pressed against the suspect, both related to threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction. He is now facing as many as 25 counts.
The case against Landen went before juvenile court Tuesday for a “fitness hearing” to determine if he is fit to be tried in juvenile court or adult court. “The case started out in juvenile court, because the person charged with it was just shy of his 18th birthday,” Cunningham said.
In order to determine which court the defendant should be tried in, the judge considered the following five criteria:
- The degree of criminal sophistication exhibited
- Whether the minor can be rehabilitated before juvenile court jurisdiction expires
- The minor’s previous delinquency history
- The success of previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the minor
- The circumstances and gravity of the offenses alleged to have been committed by the minor
Cunningham said that it is anticipated that felony charges against Landen are expected to be filed on Wednesday and include 25 counts of criminal threats, two counts of threat to use a weapon of mass destruction, two counts of attempted criminal threats, and two counts of second-degree burglary.
Brooks is set for arraignment in SLO Superior Court in Department 4 with Duffy on Friday, Dec. 18. His bail has been set at $500,000 and he is currently in juvenile hall custody.
At approximately 7:45 a.m. on Sept. 11, police received a report of a crime committed at San Gabriel Elementary. Between the evening of Sept. 10 and the morning of Sept. 11, chains and padlocks were placed on the exterior gates of the campus, threatening letters were placed outside of each classroom and a suspicious object full of liquid was found on the playground. The object was a candle jar with the wax removed and a different liquid put in, and was zip-tied to a fence. The accompanying note identified the liquid as “cyanide.” After testing, the liquid was found to be sodium ferrocyanide, a common chemical used in photo processing, mixed with a mildly acidic liquid that was not strong enough to emit cyanide gas; it would only be harmful if ingested, police said.
The school was closed immediately and classes relocated to other campuses in Atascadero for two weeks.
According to Police Chief Jerel Haley at a press conference in October, Landen was believed to have acted alone.
Update from Oct. 15, 2015:
More details released in San Gabriel School incident including content of threatening letter, objects found on playground
– A press conference was held today in Atascadero regarding the arrest of a 17-year-old local high school student who is a suspect in the investigation surrounding the San Gabriel School incident that happened on Sept. 11. Threats and objects found on the playground forced the school to close for over a week.
According to Police Chief Jerel Haley, the suspect was believed to have acted alone. He is currently in custody and is being detained at the County’s Juvenile Detention Facility.
More details were released regarding the incident, such as the contents of the letters that were placed at the doorways of each teacher’s classrooms, pictured below. The suspect appeared to have been conducting a sort of, “game” with the teachers, much like the movie Saw, and the suspects actions appear to have been designed to evoke fear and panic, according to Haley.
The contents of the suspicious object found on the playground were also described in more detail. The object was a candle jar, with the wax removed and a different liquid put in, and it was zip-tied to a fence. There was a note found nearby by the suspect identifying the liquid as “cyanide.” The liquid put it was found to be sodium ferrocyanide, a common chemical used in photo processing, mixed with a mildly acidic liquid that was not strong enough to emit cyanide gas, and would only be harmful if ingested.
It is unclear now as to whether the suspect will be tried as an adult of as a juvenile. The search warrants issued proved to be successful, and the investigation is still ongoing. Officers found items that connected the suspect to the crime in the search. The investigation was able to nail down a suspect by tracking purchase histories of items used to commit the crime.
There are currently two charges being pressed against the suspect. Both charges are related to use of a “facsimile” or replica, weapon of mass destruction. Haley reiterated the fact that no additional hazardous materials were found on the campus, and at no time was there believed to be a bomb on the school campus.
Haley said that even with 25 plus years on the force, “this is the most complex case I’ve seen.” He said that he was very proud of all of the officers who worked on the case in a timely and efficient manner, and praised the school and all involved for their swift and effective response to the evacuation of the school.
Original story posted Oct. 14, 12:30 p.m.
Search warrants served at juvenile suspect’s home
– Earlier today, the Atascadero Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigations, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office and San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department participated jointly in the service of search warrants related to the Sept. 11 incident at San Gabriel School in Atascadero, according to a report from the school.
This has been an active ongoing investigation since the incident was first discovered. The investigation has been a joint effort between the Atascadero Police Department, FBI and SLO County District Attorney’s Investigators. During the course of the investigation a juvenile suspect was identified. Evidence uncovered as part of this investigation corroborated the involvement of the juvenile suspect in the commission of the crime. The juvenile suspect was contacted and interviewed on this date prior to the service of the search warrants.
On the morning of Sept. 11 at approximately 7:45 a.m., police received a report of a crime committed at San Gabriel Elementary. It appears that on the night of Sept. 10 or the early morning of Sept. 11 there were chains and padlocks placed on the exterior gates of the campus by an unknown suspect, as well as threatening letters placed outside of each classroom. A suspicious object full of liquid was also found on the playground.
The Atascadero Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigations and San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office will hold a press briefing today at 3 p.m. at the Atascadero Police Department, located at 5505 El Camino Real, to answer questions related to the investigation and provide further details about this case. Updates will be posted.