Atwater's mayor could face ill effects from the alleged illegal firing of a rifle this week, but whether the incident could affect his time in office remains unclear, according to officials.
Mayor Jim Price fired his .22-caliber rifle from the cab of his truck at squirrels at Castle Airport, according to the Merced County Sheriff's Office. Firing from inside a vehicle is illegal and so is firing a weapon in the flight path of the airport, the Sheriff's Office confirmed.
Price was cited, his rifle was confiscated and he was ordered to surrender his concealed carry permit, which was issued by the city of Atwater, according to the Sheriff's Office. The rifle belonged to Price.
"It's pretty early to speculate" how the incident would affect Price's seat on the council, City Attorney Tom Terpstra said. The city does not have an ordinance that regulates elected officials who've been found guilty of a crime, he said.
Some state laws could apply if a crime is serious enough, he said. "A felony conviction can be grounds for removal from office," Terpstra said.
Price has declined to comment, citing advice from legal counsel.
Atwater resident James Allen reported the gunfire about 1:45 p.m. on Thursday on the northern end of the flight line inside the western fence, the Sheriff's Office confirmed. He was relaxing in the area and reading a book when he heard at least one bullet ricochet near him.
Allen called 911, because he thought he was being fired at, he said. Deputies said they responded to the airport and stopped a truck driven by Price, who is also co-owner of Gemini Flight Support, an Atwater company that fuels planes at Castle Airport and provides ground support.
The case has not yet reached the Merced County District Attorney's Office, prosecutors said Friday.
However it shakes out, the citation is a "temporary setback," according to interim City Manager Art de Werk. "I have complete confidence in the mayor," he said. "I hope this blows over quickly. People make mistakes."
The mayor spoke out against hiring de Werk last month, saying the city needed to take a deeper look into why his employment with Ceres was severed in 2014. Price protested giving de Werk the job, but has since said he would not actively impede the city manager's progress.
De Werk said "it may sound funny coming from me," but he hopes the incident does not affect Price's time in office.
"I have no desire to see him forced out," he said.
The 66-year-old mayor was elected in 2014 and the seat is up again this year.