FRONT ROYAL - A Warren County man who prompted authorities to storm a Linden home over fears he might harm himself or others must serve jail time for a gun charge.
Kurt Michael Jankowski, 34, of Linden, appeared in Warren County Circuit Court on Friday for sentencing on a misdemeanor charge of possession of a firearm by a person previously voluntarily committed to a mental health facility.
A grand jury indicted Jankowski on Nov. 5 on four felony counts each of abduction by force and use of a firearm in the commission of the offenses. Authorities accused him of holding a woman and three children against their will in their residence on May 18, 2018, while he possessed a shotgun. Jankowski had been convicted almost 10 years ago of the same misdemeanor firearm charge.
An agreement reached between Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Anna Hammond and Jankowski’s lawyer Franklin B. Reynolds Jr. called for the defendant to plead guilty to the misdemeanor firearm possession charge. In exchange for the plea, Hammond asked the court to dismiss the defendant’s remaining eight felonies.
The agreement left it up to the court to determine a sentence up to the maximum 12 months in jail as allowed by state code.
Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. sentenced Jankowski to 12 months in jail with six months suspended, leaving him with six months to serve. Athey ordered Jankowski to complete three years of supervised probation. The judge said he authorized Jankowski for work release if eligible but would not grant Reynold’s request to delay his client’s date to report to jail to allow him time to apply for work release. Jankowski told the court in his testimony that his employer likely would terminate his employment if he misses two or more consecutive workdays. Jankowski said that his job provides the health care insurance coverage for his children.
Hammond asked Athey to sentence Jankowski to 12 months in jail and suspend none of the time. The prosecutor argued that Jankowski committed the “egregious” crime and knew he was not allowed to possess a firearm. Reynolds asked the judge, should he sentence his client to the maximum 12 months, to suspend all the time.
Athey spent a few minutes to consider punishment and said he could neither make the defendant serve 12 months nor suspend the entire sentence so he compromised.
Jankowski’s sentencing hearing lasted about 90 minutes during which time the defendant and a witness testified for the defense. Jankowski testified that he had the shotgun in question for his own safety when he went to stay at a campground in Fort Valley. He testified he had seen a man following him three times driving different vehicles. Jankowski said he suspected the man was possibly a private investigator.
Hammond called as her witness Warren County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Joshua Kopp who responded to the incident at the residence. The sergeant testified that he and other law enforcement officers responded to a report of a man with a shotgun threatening a woman. Reynolds objected to the line of questioning and said the testimony was not relevant to the remaining charge. Hammond argued that the events that gave rise to the misdemeanor are relevant. Athey overruled Reynolds’ exception.
The sergeant went on to testify that while at the rear of the house he saw Jankowski step out on to the porch armed with a shotgun. Jankowski walked back into the house with the firearm. Authorities on the scene called for more resources. During this time, law enforcement was talking with the woman's brother who updated authorities at the scene on what was happening in the house. The woman had sent text messages to her brother and he, in turn, called 911, witnesses testified. She indicated in the messages that she felt afraid, the sergeant testified.
The sergeant estimated 24 law enforcement officers responded to the residence. A special operations team arrived and took position around the house and their movement triggered a motion-detection light to turn on, the sergeant testified. Jankowski stepped on the porch and members of the response team ordered him to put down the shotgun and raise his hands into the air, the sergeant said. Team members forced their way into the house through the front door and took Jankowski into custody, he said. The sergeant testified that Jankowski still had the shotgun in his possession but the defendant later told the court he dropped the firearm when ordered and the weapon rolled down the hill.
During Reynolds’ questioning, the sergeant testified that the woman's brother had called authorities, not her. The brother who also came to the residence appeared upset and angry, Reynolds said, to which the sergeant concurred. The sergeant testified that the woman's brother asked him why authorities had not forced their way into the home. The brother told him he would do it himself if law enforcement did not, the sergeant testified. The defendant later testified that he and the woman's brother do not get along.
The sergeant acknowledged that Jankowski was arrested because he had a firearm and was not permitted to have one.
The woman who was at the scene during the incident testified that Jankowski was visiting the house with her consent and she left him with the children when she went out. She testified that she had no problem leaving him with the children. She came back with another child later.
The woman testified that Jankowski told her he had seen a man three times, the latter at the top of their driveway, in different vehicles. She testified that he expressed worry about the man. She recalled telling him she did not know the person and suggested he contact authorities in Page County where he first saw the man.
Further into her testimony, she told the court she saw Jankowski with the shotgun but testified that he never pointed it at her nor in any way threatened her. She testified that all the children in the house were in their bedrooms while Jankowski had the firearm. She recalled what happened when law enforcement officers forced their way into the home and she met up with Kopp.
“I was screaming,” she said. “It wasn’t him ... they had helmets and vests and they’d come running down the hallway."
She said one of the children had "a pistol in his bedroom that’s not real, it looks real, and I was just screaming ... I was just worried.”
Hammond asked the witness questions about the events leading up to authorities’ arrival. In one line of questioning, Hammond asked the woman if Jankowski had ever told her “you’re not going anyway,” and the witness did not give a direct answer, initially saying it was raining but then said she didn’t remember.
When Hammond asked her if she was scared at the time, she said that she was “anxious” and added that she suffers from severe panic attacks.
Jankowski later testified on his behalf. He said that he and the woman had been separated for a month or two before the incident but had arranged a visitation agreement.
The defendant testified as to the events leading up to his arrest. Jankowski said he had the shotgun at the campground and brought it with him the day of the incident. At some point, he recalled, he sat on a couch near the front door and laid the shotgun across his lap. Jankowski testified that at one point he offered the firearm to the woman but she refused. As far as whether or not the woman wanted to leave, Jankowski testified that he was fine with that but he was more worried about her traveling at night in the rain with the children “and a stranger lurking outside.”
Jankowski testified that he did not know at the time of the incident that the woman had called her brother or that law enforcement agents were on their way to the house.
Hammond asked Jankowski if he knew he was not allowed to have a firearm. Jankowski responded by saying that the woman had him served with an emergency custody order about a month prior to the incident and the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office deputy who served the paper told him his computer system did not show any reason he could not have a firearm.
Jankowski later testified that he voluntarily put himself into a facility for mental health treatment almost 10 years ago. He said he has not sought treatment since then.
Jankowski testified that, in the events leading up to his arrest, he took the house phone from the woman, who was trying to call 911, to “de-escalate the situation.” Hammond asked how that would de-escalate the situation.
“Based on my first encounter with Warren County law enforcement and in the previous gun charge, I didn’t want Warren County law enforcement to be involved in this situation,” Jankowski testified.
Hammond, in arguing for her recommended sentence, cited Jankowski’s demeanor and “unresponsiveness” to questions while on the witness stand.
“This is not a man who has taken his actions seriously, who has gotten any mental health treatment after being subject to those orders and had a shotgun," Hammond said, adding that Jankowski had taken the phone from the woman "because he didn’t want her to call the police because he was trying to de-escalate as he’s walking around the house with a shotgun. This is a man that needs to be in jail for the full 12 months.”
Reynolds said that the court needs to look at why Jankowski cannot possess a firearm. The reason is not because the defendant is a convicted felon, committed any violent crimes or violated hunting laws, Reynolds said.
The defense attorney went on to say that his client never used the firearm in a threatening manner to the woman or the children.
“There’s no question that this man was worried,” Reynolds said.
The defense attorney put some of the blame on the woman’s brother for escalating the “egregious” situation.
“It was not an abduction,” Reynolds said. “There was not use of a firearm in the commission of a felony because there was no felony.
“The only thing was this man had a firearm when he wasn’t supposed to; he hadn’t gotten his rights back, and it was there for defense,” Reynolds added. “He showed no aggression toward the police.”
In a statement prepared for Jankowski’s June 10 hearing, Hammond said the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney opted not to proceed on the eight felony counts “because the victim is not able or willing to fully articulate the facts that lead to the charges.”
“We cannot secure convictions without her complete cooperation,” Hammond stated.
The court changed Jankowski’s bond conditions over the prosecutor’s objection, following a hearing in which the victim testified, to allow him unsupervised visits with the children, also identified as victims, Hammond noted. The children were asleep in their beds at the time of the incident and not directly affected, Hammond added. The prosecutor acknowledged in her statement that the office likely would not secure convictions for the felonies if they proceeded further on those charges. The office chose to proceed with the misdemeanor firearm charge because the prosecution did not need the victim to testify on its behalf, according to Hammond’s statement.