Deputy sent them into horrific California murder scene. 12 years later, couple settles suit

Jim and Norma Gund got the call from the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office on March 13, 2011.

Cpl. Ron Whitman told them he needed a little help, asking them to check on a neighbor in the Northern California hamlet of Kettenpom, court records say.

Authorities had received a 911 from the neighbor, Kristine Constantino, as a storm rolled toward the remote area about 100 miles southwest of sheriff’s headquarters in the county seat of Weaverville, court filings say.

Whitman asked the Gunds to go “check on Kristine,” court filings say.

“There’s a big storm coming,” the Gunds recalled Whitman telling them. “That’s probably what this is all about. It’s probably no big deal.”

The couple drove the quarter-mile to the home, and Norma Gund walked inside while her husband waited in their pickup truck.

Then the horror began.

An aerial view shows the remoteness of Jim and Norma Gund’s home in Kettenpom, where the couple suffered major injuries after responding to a Trinity County sheriff’s office request for a welfare check on a neighbor and were attacked by an assailant.
An aerial view shows the remoteness of Jim and Norma Gund’s home in Kettenpom, where the couple suffered major injuries after responding to a Trinity County sheriff’s office request for a welfare check on a neighbor and were attacked by an assailant.

Norma Gund had stumbled onto a double murder scene, where Constantino and her boyfriend had been tied up, tortured and killed, and she was the assailant’s next target.

The man inside the home, who had a black belt in karate, a knife and a Taser, proceeded to slit Norma Gund’s throat and hit her with the Taser until her husband rushed in and was attacked himself, suffering a cut throat and repeated jolts from the Taser.

The couple managed to escape and the suspect, a 32-year-old Corvallis, Oregon, musician named Tomas Gouverneur, was later killed when his car crashed into a tree as he was fleeing deputies.

Now, more than 12 years later, the Gunds’ legal battles with Trinity County over the incident are finally coming to an end.

Lawsuit settled after 12 years

The county has agreed to pay the couple $7 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit against the county and Whitman. Former Sheriff Bruce Haney had earlier been dismissed as a defendant, attorney Ben Mainzer said Wednesday.

In a phone interview, the Gunds said their lives were forever changed, physically and mentally, and that they don’t understand why the county fought them for 12 years after what happened.

“They never once called us and asked how we were,” said Jim Gund, a 70-year-old former heavy equipment operator for the county. “They never once called and said, ‘Can we get you some hay or groceries?’

“They never offered any assistance whatsoever. It’s disgusting.”

The settlement does not include any admission of wrongdoing by officials, Mainzer said, but added, “A recovery of $7 million doesn’t occur without an acknowledgment of serious wrongdoing implicit.”

Trinity County Sheriff Tim Saxon did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

An attorney for the county’s counsel declined to comment, writing in an email that although “the parties are in the process of carrying out the terms of a settlement, the case has not yet been dismissed, and therefore remains in active litigation.”

Whitman, who the Gunds say has retired from the Sheriff’s Office, could not be reached Thursday.

At the time of the incident, the Sheriff’s Office issued a news release saying that “at no time” was Norma Gund asked to go to her neighbor’s house and that sheriff’s officials would never “send a citizen to perform a deputy’s job.”

But court filings allege that Whitman failed to explain to the Gunds that he knew they were being asked to walk into a potentially dangerous situation.

“He sent them in like lambs to the slaughter, and that’s the upsetting part about all of this,” Mainzer said.

‘Help me,’ 911 caller whispered

Court records say the incident began at 3:28 p.m. on March 13, 2011, when the California Highway Patrol received a 911 call from a woman whispering “help me” over and over.

The caller told the CHP dispatcher that she was near the end of the Kettenpom airstrip, near the Gund and Constantino homes. The CHP alerted a Trinity County dispatcher, telling her that “the 911 caller had been whispering in an attempt to avoid being heard,” court records say.

The Trinity County dispatcher tried reaching the woman who had called 911, but got no answer and told Whitman what had happened, court records say.

Whitman then called the Gunds, asking them to go check on Constantino, court records allege, and told them that “the 911 call was likely a phone malfunction due to the recent inclement weather.”

Whitman did not tell the couple about the woman whispering “help me” or mention that the CHP dispatcher believed the woman was whispering in an effort to not be heard, court records say.

The Gunds “had no safety concerns nor any reluctance to following Defendant Whitman’s request because Defendant Whitman had not advised them that a whispering ‘help me’ distress call had been received from the Constantino residence,” court records say.

“They thought they were going to check on a neighbor, that her wood stove had likely gone out because she was a ‘city girl,’ as Norma put it,” Mainzer said. “There was a storm coming and on the ride over in the truck Jim and Norma thought her fire had gone out and she was calling for help.”

Norma and Jim Gund left their home in Kettenpom to check on a neighbor after a call from the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office. They were attacked by a man with a large hunting knife.
Norma and Jim Gund left their home in Kettenpom to check on a neighbor after a call from the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office. They were attacked by a man with a large hunting knife.

A scene of horror

When Norma Gund went inside Constantino’s home, she saw the 33-year-old woman’s body laying face down with her hands and ankles bound.

Her boyfriend, 26-year-old Christopher Sky Richardson, was face down on Constantino with his hands cuffed behind his back and a bloody plastic bag over his head, according to a factual background statement of the case provided by Mainzer.

“There was blood all over the cabin,” the statement said. “Both Kristine’s and Christopher’s lower legs were bound with rope. Christopher also had an orange electrical cord wrapped around his neck.

“The cord went from his neck up to a double pulley that had been screwed into a ceiling rafter. It appeared they had been tortured.”

The assailant immediately attacked Norma Gund, hitting her with the Taser repeatedly, beating her and slitting her throat, “dissecting the carotid artery and windpipe,” the statement says.

Gund, a 60-year-old former school bus driver, passed out, then regained consciousness to the sight of her husband fighting with the assailant and yelling at her to run.

Norma Gund fled the home to the nearby Kettenpom store, where she sought help.

“Because of the cut to her throat, she could not speak,” the statement from Mainzer said. “She had to write what had happened as drops of foamy blood fell to the floor of the store.”

Jim Gund was beaten, hit with the Taser repeatedly and had his neck cut before he was able to wrest the knife away and escape to his home to grab a firearm.

He found his wife at the store, “bleeding and at risk of death,” the statement says. Officials believe the attacker’s use of the Taser on her neck cauterized the wound enough to stop her from bleeding to death.

‘When people are dead their eyes are open’

Norma Gund was hospitalized at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento for 11 days after the attack, and had a tube in her throat for four months, she said, adding that she was told she had lost half the blood in her body.

She still suffers from the physical and mental aspects of the attack, she said.

“My heart aches,” she said. “It’s a physical pain in my heart, and I think it’s because of the two young people that were tortured all day by this guy.

“When people are dead their eyes are open. They were open the whole time I was in there fighting that guy. My heart aches for them, my heart aches for their parents. It’s horrible, and I really want to have a law enacted that people who suffer violent crime and survive should never have to wait 12 years for justice. There’s just no reason for that at all.

“It’s like being assaulted all over again.”

Mainzer said that during the court fights, which included two lawsuits and appeals to the California Supreme Court and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, he discovered evidence of other instances in which Trinity sheriff’s officials used civilians to assist in dangerous situations.

One came in 1997, when an armed man named Haskell Hall barricaded himself inside a trailer and sheriff’s officials allegedly asked a neighbor, Carole Laag, to try and talk him into coming out. Hall stabbed Laag to death and was shot by deputies, Mainzer said.

The second came in 2008, when a woman named Deena McGaughey called the sheriff after hearing gunshots and feared for her family’s safety, Mainzer said.

A deputy responded and asked a neighbor “to dress up in camouflage clothing and run across McGaughey’s property in one direction so that he could search the property from another direction,” the statement of facts from Mainzer said. “It was McGaughey’s understanding that the deputy believed by doing this it would throw off the shooter and allow the deputy to better locate the shooter.”

Mainzer said that case came to light because McGaughey contacted his office after hearing about the Gund case.

“When we contacted the county to find out more about this, those records had been purged,” Mainzer said, adding that some of Whitman’s emails had been deleted following the attack on the Gunds and that a report the county produced differed from a copy Whitman had provided during discovery.

“So there’s a growing pattern that was emerging where documents and records we thought should exist didn’t seem to exist, or were apparently deleted,” Mainzer said, adding that the Sheriff’s Office has not changed policies following the incidents.

Norma Gund of Kettenpom, a rural community in Trinity County, shows tattoos of angels that she has on her wrists in early February, 2018. In 2011, Gund and her husband were stabbed after they received call from the Trinity County sheriff’s office to do a welfare check on a neighbor. Gund survived being stabbed and having her throat slashed by an unstable ex-boyfriend of her neighbor.
Jim Gund saddles his horse in the remote community of Kettenpom in Trinity County in February 2018. Gund and his wife Norma say they’re lucky to be alive after an unstable ex-boyfriend of her neighbor went on a killing rampage and stabbed the Gunds after they responded to a welfare check on their neighbor requested by the Trinity County sheriff’s office.

Did divine intervention save them?

The Gunds, who have lived in Trinity County since 1981 and now run a horse-riding school with five horses, believe they survived the ordeal because of divine intervention. Norma Gund had angels tattooed on her wrists because she believes two angels helped her escape her attacker.

They say the community they knew before the incident — one where residents never locked their doors and left their keys in their vehicles — has changed, with residents much more concerned about security.

“It was like Andy and Mayberry,” Jim Gund said. “People would stop in the middle of the road, shut their rigs off and gab for 20 minutes.”

But the couple says they aren’t leaving the area, where residents still help each other out.

One neighbor paid a truck repair bill for $1,100 for them, they said, and when they returned from the hospital in Sacramento they found neighbors had plowed the snow from around their home.

“That’s the main reason I wouldn’t want to leave here,” Jim Gund said. “Where would I go? I would live amongst strangers.

“I’m not going to let an evilly possessed freak drive me out. That’s exactly what Satan would want.”