Ex-Los Banos priest charged in second child porn case beaten in jail

Robert Gamel, 67, appears at the Merced Superior Court in Los Banos Friday, May 12, 2017, on a felony count of possession of child pornography months after pleading guilty to a similar charge.
Robert Gamel, 67, appears at the Merced Superior Court in Los Banos Friday, May 12, 2017, on a felony count of possession of child pornography months after pleading guilty to a similar charge.

A 67-year-old former Catholic priest in Los Banos appeared in court Friday, a day after was beaten in jail by another inmate.

Robert E. Gamel, who is facing his second child pornography case in as many years, was assaulted around 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the exercise yard at John Latorraca Correctional Facility, Merced County Undersheriff Jason Goins confirmed.

Gamel was punched and kicked in the head and upper body, allegedly by Daniel C. Bar, a 21-year-old Newman man. Gamel, the former head priest at St. Joseph Church, suffered non-life-threatening injuries. He was treated at the jail, Goins said.

“He (Gamel) was targeted because of the charge against him,” Goins said.

According to jail records, Bar has been in custody since April 25 and was serving a 90-day sentence in connection with a misdemeanor burglary allegation and a probation violation. Records indicate Bar has been in and out of custody in Merced County since at least 2014 on a variety of theft and drug-related charges.

Goins said Bar was arrested in connection with the assault and Gamel and the case was sent to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office to review filing additional charges against Bar.

Gamel has been moved into protective housing at the jail. Judge David Moranda on Friday also ordered a report regarding Gamel’s safety and housing situation at the jail.

Once known around Los Banos as “Father Bob,” Gamel pleaded no contest last year to a single felony count of possession of child pornography. He served six months in jail, avoiding the maximum three-year state prison term requested by the prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Travis Colby.

He also was ordered to serve four years on probation and was required to register as a sex offender.

Gamel was released from custody in December last year. He was arrested again April 12 after probation officers found three alleged images of child pornography.

New details emerged Friday in the new case against the former priest.

Images of a naked child that officers found last month at his home appear to be the same photographs that led to Gamel’s child pornography conviction last year, according to probation reports.

Those images also appeared to have been printed on recycled church-related papers. On one side of a piece of paper, investigators found an illegal image of a child and on the other side of the page officers found a church message with the heading “Born the Kings of Angels,” according to reports obtained Friday by the Merced Sun-Star.

The images were seized by Merced County Probation Officers Soulaphonh Saosavang, Jose Granados and Seth Stolle during a routine probation search of Gamel’s Merced home, the reports say.

When asked about the photos, Gamel “began to explain that they were old photographs that he meant to get rid of but he had not gotten to,” the reports state.

After further investigation and questioning, Gamel eventually told one of the officers the images were of the same victim from his prior case, a teenage boy who once attended his parish, according to the reports.

Los Banos Police Officer Eduardo Solis also told the probation officers he believed the new images were the same as those he discovered in 2014 when he investigated Gamel, the reports say.

Gamel was the lead priest at St. Joseph from 2009 to 2014 when allegations of child pornography first emerged. Church officials contacted Los Banos police after the victim’s family alerted them to illegal image.

A preliminary hearing and bail review are set for June 14 in Merced County Superior Court.

Church officials have said Gamel has been “indefinitely removed” from the ministry, and reports are expected to be sent to the Vatican in Rome to determine Gamel’s church status.

He remains in custody without bail.

Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562