Judge denies Washougal mayor’s request

Sean Guard's case will be tried by Cowlitz County Prosecutor's Office

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Cowlitz County District Court Judge Ed Putka has denied a motion to disqualify that county’s prosecuting attorney’s office from trying the case of Washougal Mayor Sean Guard.

Putka’s decision was made Tuesday afternoon, in the courthouse in Kelso.

One of Guard’s previous attorneys, Aaron Bartlett, was hired by the Cowlitz County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in August.

In October, Kris Carrasco, with Vancouver Defenders, filed a motion to have a prosecutor from outside Cowlitz County try the case.

At that time, Guard said the motion to disqualify was a result of the Cowlitz Prosecutor’s office not notifying him of the steps the office was taking to insulate Bartlett from the case.

In July, Luka Vitasovic entered a plea of not guilty on Guard’s behalf for a charge of second degree criminal impersonation [of a police officer]. Guard could face zero to 365 days in jail, and the maximum fine for a gross misdemeanor is $5,000.

He was stopped by a State Patrol trooper on Dec. 24, 2010, along I-5 near Kelso. The trooper responded to a dispatch issued after someone called 911 about a person who was using emergency lights in order to get slower traffic to move out of the left lane.

A readiness hearing is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 8, at 4 p.m., and a jury trial is set for Friday, Dec. 16.

The readiness session will include a hearing on the voluntariness of Guard’s statements to the police, according to Cowlitz County Chief Criminal Deputy Michelle Shaffer.

“The state must show that any statements a defendant made to the police were voluntary — not coerced or made due to threats,” she said Wednesday. “The judge considers things such as whether the defendant was in custody at the time of the statements, whether the statements were made during a formal interrogation and whether Miranda rights were explained to and waived by the defendant. It’s standard.”

Guard retained the Vancouver Defenders firm in June. The firm’s owner Jeffrey Barrar assigned Vitasovic and Bartlett to the case.

Vitasovic was hired by the Clark County Prosecutor’s office in July.