A former Palo Alto firefighter who has held a grudge against the city for years pleaded no contest on Thursday (May 19) to a felony count of making criminal threats against Palo Alto police Chief Dennis Burns and several city officials.
Andrew Jentzsch, 48, had been a firefighter and paramedic with the City of Palo Alto for 20 years, starting in 1983. In 2003, he resigned his position but then wanted to return to the job. The city did not rehire him, but he received incentive pay, Burns said on Thursday.
"He was given steps to complete before he could come back but he did not complete those steps," Burns said.
Jentzsch has written in online posts that he sustained a painful shoulder injury and required a joint replacement. He said the city did not help him or provide benefits for his injury.
Jentzsch had a long history of resentment over the incident, which he documented in posts in various Internet forums. He intermittently used Palo Alto Online's Town Square to air his grievances. Palo Alto Online is owned by the Weekly's parent company, Embarcadero Media.
The dispute took place years before Burns was made interim fire chief in June 2010 or had any connection to the fire department. But on March 22, Jentzsch made several posts on Town Square that for the first time referenced weapons, ammunition, "ending it" and "not being around for the aftermath."
Palo Alto Online editors removed the posts as soon as they were discovered, and Publisher William Johnson notified the police.
Jentzsch wrote of adding a Colt M60e3 belt feed to his stock of weapons. "It is kind of fun to dress up in my Kevlar helmet with face mask and eye protection. Throw the Pro Max Turtle jacket with side and front plates on, load up the drop leg protection holster with a glock and extra mags. Flash bangs, smoke grenades. Cold steel and zip ties. Maybe a Taser just in case?"
"Makes you feel that reforming the process just got much easier," he wrote on Town Square.
"As they say, 'Meet my little friend.' Just love the ending of the first Rambo."
"Chief Burns remember when we talked? No I am not doing well, I did not start it, however, I WILL END IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
The posts included a list of people with whom Jentzsch held grievances, including former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson, former City Manager Frank Benest, former City Attorney Gary Baum, former police Chief Lynne Johnson, former fire Chief Nick Marinaro, president of the firefighters union Tony Spitaleri, police officers and City Manager James Keene. "And the list would go on for days," he wrote.
"Maybe a couple more politicians need to be shot in the head? Palo Alto employees shooting people at work is nothing new ..."
Police were not immediately able to locate Jentzsch, as he has had several addresses since leaving the city, but they eventually traced him to Hawaii. Jentzsch was arrested April 21 by Hawaiian county police and was extradited to California May 12, Burns said.
Jentzsch was arraigned in Santa Clara County Superior Court in Palo Alto on three charges last week: making threats to commit a crime resulting in death or great bodily injury and threatening a public official, both felonies; and making annoying or threatening phone calls or using other means of mass communication, a misdemeanor.
Deputy District Attorney Judy Lee said Jentzsch has agreed to get psychiatric help. He could face a maximum of three years in state prison for the criminal threat plea, but Lee said he would most probably receive three years of probation and would be supervised in Department 64, a special treatment court. Under the plea agreement, he could be sentenced to one year maximum in county jail, but that is not likely to happen, as he has no criminal history, she said.
"His victims are not interested in seeing him punished. They want to get him help. He is going to get the best that Santa Clara County has to offer," she said. Prior to sentencing on July 20, Jentzsch would be evaluated by doctors for services. A judge will review the findings and will decide if he is to serve any jail time, she said.
Lee said there could be a possible out-of-state transfer for his probation, since he might live elsewhere. He has agreed to surrender all weapons that he owns. Six or seven weapons have been registered in his name, but Jentzsch has said he gave them away, she said.
"His rants were pretty long and descriptive with weapons and how he wants to use them and who he wants to use them on. It's very scary, given workplace violence," she said.
But she added that everyone involved recognized he needs help.
"He was a firefighter for many years and we appreciate his service to the city. We want to make sure he gets the help he needs. It's a very good resolution all around," she said.
Burns said he is glad the case has concluded.
"While there might be a violation of law, we're more concerned about Andrew's health. Especially in this day and age after Congresswoman Gifford's incident it's very concerning if somebody's talking about these things," he said.
Assistant City Attorney Donald Larkin said he offered to help Jentzsch receive services.
Deputy Public Defender Gary Goodman said Larkin is going out of his way to help Jentzsch.
He called the plea deal "very reasonable. No one was out to 'get' my client."
Jentzsch is "tired. He knows he did wrong. I don't believe he's a threat to anyone. He wants to move on from this," he said.
Goodman said his client's dispute with the city "had some real legitimate issues. He wasn't getting a response. ... Neither side was treating each other very well. It just blossomed."