A provincial court judge fears events in the tiny village of Coalmont “are spiralling out of control.”
Charges of uttering threats, criminal harassment and causing people to fear for their safety were laid last week against Karl Heinz Gatzke, 73, of Coalmont, a village of just over 100 people located west of Princeton.
Gatzke was released on a $2,500 conditional recognizance Tuesday in Penticton, after breaching a no-contact order from his previous recognizance related to events in 2014. Gatzke was released with the condition that he not return to Coalmont, except for one instance to retrieve his car when he will be escorted by a peace officer.
“I don’t know what’s going on in Coalmont but I’m really concerned about all this,” Judge Gale Sinclair said in Princeton court last week at the end of two days of testimony in a case of mischief against Marianna Gatzke – Karl Gatzke’s daughter. “Some respected member of the community, or someone, should talk to some people. We now have multiple, multiple charges … I really don’t like it.”
About 15 people crowded into the Princeton court house last Thursday and Friday, where Marianna Gatzke, who is acting as her own counsel, examined witnesses including her father. The case was adjourned late Friday morning.
While the mischief charges stem from events in April 2011 and May 2013, much of the testimony centred around subsequent happenings, including an incident where Marianna said she was assaulted and suffered a broken orbital bone, as well as an assault on her father’s vehicle before he was arrested last Thursday.
The trial began in March 2014, when the prosecution presented witnesses who claimed noise coming from Marianna’s power tools and radio, as well as signage and spotlights at her residence, interfered with their enjoyment of their property.
In June last year, several people involved in the trial were injured, as well as charged with assault and aggravated assault, after what RCMP Sgt. Barry Kennedy described as a “brawl” involving pitchforks and shovels.
On Thursday, Karl Gatzke was brought into court in handcuffs and testified with a sheriff sitting beside the witness stand.
Marianna said she fears for her life from “basically all the circle people around my home.”
The father and daughter discussed Princeton RCMP, and put forward a theory that police have conspired with their neighbours against them.
Karl told the court “there’s been no help for years” from police. “They just cover it all up.”
Marianna also called two RCMP officers, a former boss and three neighbours to the stand.
While examining neighbour Sandra Aguillon, Marianna asked about an incident that occurred two days previously in which two men allegedly attacked her father’s vehicle.
“Did you see them attack my Dad’s car?”
Aguillon responded: “Only when your dad tried to back over them.”
Marianna asked Aguillon if she took pictures of the incident.
“Yes I was, of you,” the witnessed replied.
Marianna asked: “Where was I?”
Sandra responded: “Sitting in the car taking pictures of me.”
Following court, in an interview with The Similkameen Spotlight, Sgt. Kennedy said the ongoing feud in Coalmont “has been a real drain on resources” for the detachment. Since 2011, the RCMP has received more than 50 complaints from residents in the town and “we’ve been quite concerned about how volatile the situation is.”
Fourteen complaints have been lodged since last year’s brawl, said Kennedy.
“Everybody is on conditions to not bother each other and not talk to each other and we still get called out.”
In a seemingly unrelated matter last week Rolly Giroux, of Coalmont, appeared in Penticton court and was charged with attempted murder after another Coalmont man, Warren Spence, was struck by a car while talking at the town’s public phone booth Sunday, March 29.
Ole Juul, who published the digital newspaper New Coalmont Courier, said in an email to the Spotlight “I fear that this court case gives a skewed impression of day-to-day life here. This is indeed a colourful community, but not quite as exciting as these recent events might suggest.”
Juul said “for the sake of those directly involved, I hope that some practical solution comes out of this court case. People just want to go about their daily lives without conflict, and the Coalmont community is no different in that respect.”
The trial for the alleged brawl between neighbours will take place in Princeton in August.
— With files from Dale Boyd/Western News