On Thursday, Oct. 26, Richard Latka, 56, of Hemet, was convicted by a federal jury in U.S. District Court of threatening a federal officer. Latka threatened to kill a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer who came to the man’s home to ask about trash dumped in the San Bernardino National Forest.
In October 2014, a Forest Service officer (not identified in the Department of Justice press release) went to a residence in Hemet to investigate trash that had recently been dumped in the nearby national forest. The officer encountered Latka in the front yard of the residence, and Latka reacted angrily when the officer said he wished to speak to “Mr. Morales” without telling Latka the reason.
According to the press release, based on the trial evidence, Latka then ran toward the officer with clenched fists. Believing that Latka intended to hit him, the officer drew his Taser gun, which stopped Latka but he continued screaming at the officer.
The officer got in his car, but Latka continued to scream at him and pounded on the window of the car window, which was a marked law enforcement vehicle. Although the officer drove away, Latka followed in his own car. He began yelling, “Next time you’re dead,” according to witnesses who also reported that Latka later said that he would “get” the officer and that he was going to kill him.
“Threatening the lives of law enforcement officers will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker in the press release. “The officer in this case took many steps to de-escalate the situation and prevent it from getting worse. If not for the officer’s professionalism and calm, the defendant’s conduct could have become more violent and dangerous.”
U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer, who presided over the trial, set sentencing for Jan. 25, 2016, at which time Latka will face a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison, a three-year period of supervised release and a fine of $250,000.