Judge: NC Man An 'Overwhelming' Danger To Public

1:39 PM, Jul 26, 2013   |    comments
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Asheville, NC (ACT) -- A federal judge denied bond Thursday for a Henderson County man he deemed an "overwhelming" danger to the public following testimony the man threatened to shoot his sister, prompting a lockdown at the elementary school where she worked.

A detective also said during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Asheville there's evidence that Joseph Anthony Sentell made a terrorist threat to blow up the county Sheriff's Office so he could become the new sheriff.

Magistrate Judge Dennis Howell ordered Sentell to remain in custody pending trial on a charge that he tried to make an illegal purchase of a firearm by lying on a government form about his mental health status. The crime carries up to five years in prison.

The defendant tried to buy the rifle after three guns were confiscated from his car when he was caught by deputies on his way to Bruce Drysdale Elementary in November after threatening to harm his sister, who worked at the school, said Jeffery Brooks, a detective assigned to the FBI N.C. Joint Terrorism Task Force.

The manhunt prompted a lockdown at the school, Brooks said.

Sentell wasn't able to buy the Remington rifle on May 6 at a Walmart in Asheville because a background check showed he had been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, according to court records.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Kent argued at Thursday's detention hearing that if Sentell was released on bond, he still could purchase a firearm from an individual or at a flea market. Background checks are only required for purchases at federally licensed dealers.

"There are too many warning signs to say he doesn't pose a danger to the community," Kent said. "We can't ignore the threats. He needs to be detained pending trial."

The government also maintained in court papers that Sentell's "mental health history heightens this risk."

Public defender Mary Ellen Coleman argued that Sentell was only convicted of two misdemeanors - resisting arrest and disturbing the peace - in connection to the threat against his sister and has never been charged with a violent crime.

Lying on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms form is not a crime of violence, but "a reporting-type crime," she said. Coleman said Sentell should be allowed to remain free pending trial.

But Howell disagreed, saying Sentell poses a "serious risk."

"The evidence of potential danger ... is overwhelming," the judge said.

The purpose of the ATF form is to prevent criminal misuse of firearms, according to the bureau.

"The defendant represented in writing that he had never been adjudicated mentally defective or been committed to a mental institution, when in fact, as the defendant then well knew, he previously had been committed to a mental institution," a criminal complaint states.

Court documents state Sentell was involuntarily committed by a doctor at Park Ridge Hospital in Fletcher on Jan. 12 and stayed there four days. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pritchard said a magistrate approved the commitment order after a witness said he made "homicidal and suicidal statements."

"This event requires an affirmative answer to the question on the ATF Form 4473 according to the instructions on the form, and the law," the affidavit states.

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