Sentence is extended
in police assault case
"The punishment has to be
significant. If families become fair game, the whole system is going to
— J. SCOTT JAMES, Idaho
deputy attorney general
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
The former Sun Valley Police
Department employee who was convicted in 2001 on aggravated assault
charges for going to a Ketchum police officer’s home with a drawn
handgun had her minimum sentence extended this week.
GAIL HIGH. Express photo
by Willy Cook
Gail J. High, who had been
sentenced to a minimum of five years in prison on aggravated assault
charges, was sentenced to a minimum of seven years on burglary charges
as well. The sentencing by 5th District Judge James May follows a
successful appeal by the state of Idaho to return burglary to the list
of High’s charges.
Her sentences, both capped at 10
years, are to run concurrently.
"She’s somebody that this court
knows will do anything it takes to minimize her accountability," said J.
Scott James, deputy attorney general for the state of Idaho.
High’s attorney, Boise-based
Dennis Benjamin, said he was obviously disappointed in May’s sentence.
Benjamin said High, who is incarcerated at the Pocatello Women’s
Correctional Center, has been taking college classes and has experienced
stabilization of a mood disorder that has characterized her behavior.
"There’s no reason to increase the
time, and we’d ask that you impose the suggested sentence," Benjamin
High was originally charged with
and tried for attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault,
burglary and three counts of use of a firearm during the commission of a
crime. High was found not guilty of attempted second-degree murder.
However, a jury found her guilty of all other charges, except for one
count of use of a firearm during the commission of a crime.
But High filed a motion for
judgment of acquittal, which the district court granted with respect to
burglary and the accompanying charges of use of a firearm.
"The state appeals, arguing that
the district court erred when it granted High’s motion for judgment of
acquittal for burglary and the use of a firearm in the commission of a
crime," according to the Court of Appeals’ decision.
High’s incarceration began on Dec.
16, 2000, after Ketchum Police Sgt. Dave Kassner arrested High for a
DUI. Later that night, High took a taxi to Kassner’s home. She was armed
with a .40-caliber Glock handgun.
Upon arriving at the Kassner home,
High was met at the door of the house by a tenant, John Straka, who
testified in 2001 that he invited her in after she asked if Sgt. Kassner
was home. The two stepped into an entryway common to both the house and
Straka said High was sobbing, and
he wondered if she was bringing some bad news to the family. He said he
reached outside to ring the doorbell to try to awaken Mrs. Kassner. When
he turned back, he said, he saw High facing the Kassner’s door holding
the gun above her right shoulder, pointed into the air. He said he
immediately grabbed her hand and the gun with his left hand and pushed
her back with his right.
During the struggle to bring High
to the ground, the gun fired once. Straka said he did not have his hand
on the trigger.
Sgt. Kassner testified that by
coincidence, he arrived home shortly after the shot was fired, intending
to take a lunch break on his graveyard shift. He said he entered the
home after seeing his wife gesturing frantically from the doorway.
Following a struggle, he placed High in handcuffs.
On Monday, March 15, Sgt. Kassner
testified that police officers need to be able to do their jobs without
fear of retribution to them or their families.
"I was merely doing my job, and
Ms. High came to my house to try to exact some revenge," he said.
Colleen Kassner told the court
that she will not feel safe in her home when High is eventually released
"There is a history of revenge,"
High also took the stand on Monday
and said she has had a lot of time to think about what she did.
"I can honestly tell you that not
a day has passed in three years that I have not thought about the
destruction I have caused," she said. At the time of the trial, she said
she did not fully understand the totality of her crime. Now, her apology
is more sincere, she said.
But James maintained that High was
only going through the paces of trying to appear sincere before the
"The punishment has to be
significant," he said. "If families become fair game, the whole system
is going to implode. (Prospective police officers) are going to say it’s
not worth the risk."