The Merced County District Attorney’s Office said investigators don’t have enough evidence to charge Atwater’s mayor with a crime for allegedly shooting at squirrels at Castle Airport.
Mayor Jim Price fired his .22-caliber rifle from the cab of his truck at squirrels on the ground at Castle on Jan. 11, according to the Merced County Sheriff's Office. He potentially faced charges for negligently being unsafe with a firearm, investigators said.
Because Price holds political office, the DA's office stressed that he was treated like any other person. Deputy District Attorney Alan Turner, a veteran of felony investigations, reviewed the evidence without knowing Price holds the mayor's office, according to District Attorney Larry Morse II.
Turner, who lives in Chowchilla, reviewed reports that make no mention that Price is mayor of Atwater, Morse said.
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"This thing is as stripped of politics as it could be," Morse said on Wednesday. "Alan doesn't know Jim Price from Vincent Price. ... This case is 100 percent void of politics."
Turner's decision to reject the complaint was based on the lack of evidence to get a conviction, Morse said.
In January, 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, investigators confirmed.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Price said he wasn't aware of the DA's decision. He declined to comment further before speaking with his legal counsel.
As an elected official, a felony charge may have ended with disciplinary actions, Atwater's city attorney said in January.
An Atwater resident reported the gunfire about 1:45 p.m. on Jan. 11 on the northern end of the flight line inside the western fence at Castle Airport, 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.
The man 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 also is co-owner of Gemini Flight Support, an Atwater company that fuels planes at Castle Airport and provides ground support.
Sheriff Vern Warnke said he was satisfied that the case was handled without political consideration, but said only chance kept the stray bullet from injuring someone. Warnke said he still has Price's concealed carry permit, often called a CCW, and may not return it.
"At this point I have to think long and hard based on the actions my deputies had to take, and what Mr. Price had admitted to doing with a firearm," he said Wednesday. "Anybody that's holding a CCW, I'd like to think they'd use more due caution than what was displayed."