A Dubois man accused of ramming another man's truck and pounding on its windows while holding a knife may have had a restraining order against his alleged victim at that time.
Chad Thomas, 45, is now facing a felony property destruction charge and an aggravated assault charge in the felony-level Fremont County District Court. The transfer happened in a Wednesday preliminary hearing in which Lander Circuit Court Judge Jefferson Coombs found probable cause to elevate the case to the higher court.
Court documents and testimony in Thomas’ case allege that he drove his black Hummer into Gary Engman’s 2021 Dodge Ram pickup while Engman was parking in front of the Cowboy Café in Dubois. He then hopped out of the Hummer and started pounding on Engman’s windows while holding a knife.
Engman, who owns the Jackson-based company Restoration Lumber, had just dropped another man off at the café to get a table and was trying to parallel park on the road shoulder when the alleged collision and attack happened.
The cross-examination in Thomas’ Wednesday hearing was lively.
Jon Gerard, supervisor for the Fremont County Public Defender’s office and Thomas’ defense attorney, challenged the credibility of Engman and the other eyewitness, who was Engman’s companion for lunch that day.
Engman and Thomas have a history, Gerard said.
Thomas’ wife applied for a restraining order Aug. 21 to keep Engman away from herself, Thomas and their daughters, according to Thomas’ wife, who spoke with Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.
Gerard asked about the restraining order during Wednesday’s hearing.
“Are you aware of an ex parte order of protection against Mr. Engman by Mr. Thomas and his family?” asked Gerard of Dubois Police Chief Sean Hampton.
Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun objected to the question, saying it was not relevant for a preliminary hearing.
Gerard countered, saying the question is relevant to the strength of the evidence.
“We have a crash on the busiest street, on the busiest corner in Dubois, and the only two individuals who reported anything incriminating against Mr. Thomas were a man subject to an ex parte order (by Thomas) – and his friend who had just gotten out of the truck,” said Gerard.
The public defender characterized that as dubious.
LeBrun said a preliminary hearing is not for probing the credibility of witnesses. The court’s objective in a preliminary hearing is to decide whether the prosecutor has shown probable cause to keep prosecuting the defendant, he said.
With some hesitancy, Coombs overruled LeBrun’s objection and let Gerard continue down that line of questioning.
The police chief said he was aware of the protection order, but that the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, not his office, is investigating the allegations against Engman outlined within it.
Engman did not immediately respond Wednesday to a Cowboy State Daily voicemail seeking comment.
Just ‘Lost It’
When Hampton went to arrest Thomas, he found Thomas sitting in a chair outside his own home, smoking a cigar.
“He knew why I was there,” said Hampton. “He stood up and removed a black, fixed-blade knife from his belt.”
Then Hampton arrested Thomas without incident and took him to the Fremont County Detention Center, where the police chief interviewed him.
Thomas was emotional, even crying during the interview, Hampton said.
“He admitted he ‘lost it,’” Hampton related from the interview. “He lost his temper, he saw Gary and wanted to punch Gary in the face, and pulled in front of Gary’s vehicle – as he described it – got out and started beating on (Engman’s) windows with the intent of punching Gary.”
Where Was The Knife?
Gerard cast doubt upon the second count that Thomas faces, of aggravated assault. It’s a felony-level charge punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Thomas is accused of violating that law by threatening to use a “drawn deadly weapon” on Engman, a knife that Engman and his companion said Thomas had in his hand during the alleged attack.
“Did (Engman and the witness) say whether Mr. Thomas had the knife at his side? Up in the air?” asked Gerard.
They didn’t say what position the knife was in, Hampton said. They only said he had a knife in his hand, and that he was threatening to kill Engman.
Gerard attempted other arguments against the case’s first count, felony property destruction, which accuses Thomas of causing more than $1,000 in damage to Engman’s truck.
He then questioned whether the front-end bumper damage on the Ram truly amounts to more than $1,000.
LeBrun during his closing statements said that “commonsense these days” dictates that head-on collision damage to a 2021 Dodge Ram is going to amount to more than $1,000 in damages.
In the end, Coombs said that he found probable cause on both the assault and the property destruction counts, prompting him to send the case to the felony-level court.
Bond Will Stay $20K
Gerard asked Coombs to lower Thomas’ $20,000 cash-only bond. The defender insisted that Thomas isn’t a flight risk and said that though Thomas and his family moved recently to Dubois, his family is living in Dubois and they tie him to the community.
Gerard also implied that the state’s case against Thomas isn’t very strong, since the alleged victim and witness likely have a stake in the case’s outcome and may not be credible.
The strength of the prosecutor’s case is a factor in how likely a man is to flee justice. If the prosecutor has a very strong case, judges consider the defendant more likely to run.
LeBrun characterized Gerard’s argument as a red herring.
“Every victim has an interest in the case,” said LeBrun. “What we have is two witnesses who say he had a knife and threatened (Engman).”
Gerard said the court could ensure that Thomas – if he could bond out of jail – would stay away from Engman by wearing an ankle monitor rigged to alert law enforcement if he went to Engman’s work or home.
LeBrun said that wouldn’t do. He cast doubt on whether Engman and the community could be made safe if Thomas went back to Dubois during this case.
Thomas had threatened Engman before, according to court testimony.
“They’re going to encounter each other” in the small town of Dubois, the prosecutor said. “There needs to be a significant cash bond so that the next time – and it’s bound to happen in that community – it doesn’t get worse.”
Coombs agreed, calling Gerard’s argument unpersuasive and ordering the bond to stay right where it is, at $20,000 cash.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.