By Scott Smith
STOCKTON, Calif. — A sentence releasing the man who shot up the Ripon Police Department turned into a face-off Monday between San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Terrence Van Oss and the county's upper echelon of law enforcement.
Van Oss ruled Monday that Jason Walraven, 36, was an otherwise upstanding citizen who "snapped" under life's pressure when he fired 17 shots inside his own home Dec. 2, then drove into downtown Ripon, crashed his car and opened fire on the Police Department.
"This was a temporary condition, something completely out of his character and not likely to happen again," said Van Oss, explaining the sentence that set Walraven free from jail nearly nine months after his arrest. "I find this was a very unusual case."
Van Oss ordered Walraven to serve 10 years on probation, refrain from drinking alcohol or possessing a gun ever again, and pay restitution to the Ripon Police Department. A jail spokesman said Walraven was released at 2:45 p.m. Monday.
In a rare public show of solidarity, the county's district attorney, sheriff and the police chiefs from Manteca, Lodi and Stockton sat in the front row of Van Oss' courtroom opposing the sentence. They wanted Van Oss to send Walraven to prison.
"It was by the grace of God that nobody was injured that night," said Ripon Police Chief Richard Bull, who directly asked Van Oss to reconsider the sentence. "I implore you."
Manteca Police Chief Charles Halford said outside of court that the sentence was disappointing and that he came to court to support the Ripon police.
"Unfortunately, this guy brought danger to the Police Department," Halford said. "It was pure luck nobody got hit by anything."
Walraven faced up to 20 years and eight months in state prison after pleading guilty earlier this month to multiple felonies for assault with a firearm on his wife and for endangering his daughter, now age 8, among other violations.
San Joaquin County District Attorney Jim Willett, who sat with the sheriff and police chiefs, said outside of the courtroom that anybody who brings violence to society's sanctuaries -- such as police departments, schools, churches and synagogues -- should be punished accordingly.
"Otherwise, we'll become downtown Baghdad," Willett said. "It's an outrageous decision."
Responding to law enforcement officials facing him in the courtroom, Van Oss announced he was going to lock the courtroom doors for a civics lesson in judicial independence. Anybody who did not want to hear should leave, he said.
Van Oss explained that Walraven, who worked at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory as a computer systems administrator, abused alcohol and became overwrought by his commute and a big mortgage payment.
On that December night, he went out drinking with friends and came home, where he started to threaten his wife with divorce. He fired a handgun and a 12-gauge shotgun in his house and in the front yard, and then drove downtown, where he shot four rounds from the same weapons at the Police Department, court papers said.
The sound of gunfire sent emergency dispatchers inside running out of fear. For about two minutes, they had to abandon the switchboard, which dispatches police, fire personnel and ambulances for 20,000 people in the area, Bull said.
The police lobby was empty that night, but it is often filled with people, he said.
The judge agreed that Walraven's actions that night were "flagrant" and "negligent," yet Walraven did not hunt down and shoot anybody like the gunmen who terrorized people at Virginia Tech or Columbine, said Van Oss, referring to two notorious mass killings.
"He snapped," said Van Oss, describing Walraven as a contributing member of society who worked, paid taxes and supported his family. Further defending his decision, Van Oss added that he was not lenient because the defendant was a white male.
"If you want a judge who bends to political pressure, vote for the next guy," Van Oss said. "I know how bad it was. I know how bad it could have been."
San Joaquin County Deputy Public Defender William Fattarsi said Van Oss made the right decision. Fattarsi said the police chiefs, who wore their uniforms to court, were "posturing" to intimidate the judge, which did not happen.
Fattarsi said he enjoyed Van Oss' "civics lesson" that lasted about 15 minutes.
"I couldn't have said it any better myself today," Fattarsi said.
Christina Walraven said her husband is not a bad person and she never felt in danger the night of the shooting.
"I was begging for him to stop," she said outside of the courtroom. "It was a night I couldn't get through to him."
Jason Walraven has paid his debt to society, his wife said. Now, she, her husband and the couple's daughter and his 15-year-old stepson, will start over. They have moved from Ripon, but Christina Walraven would not say to where.
Copyright 2007 The Record
Stockton, Calif. police outraged after man gets time served for firing on station