Brian Dutcher, who was arrested by the Secret Service for making written and verbal threats to kill President Barack Obama during his visit to La Crosse last week, planned to carry out the assassination with a slingshot, a federal agent testified Thursday at a court hearing.
Secret Service Special Agent Jeffrey Ferris testified that Dutcher, 55, of Tomah, told a security guard at the La Crosse Public Library and wrote on Facebook that he planned to shoot Obama during the president’s visit to La Crosse on July 2.
But in an interview with Ferris, Dutcher said that he was going to use a slingshot to kill Obama, who he referred to as a “usurper.”
“He said he was very accurate with a slingshot,” Ferris testified during cross-examination by Dutcher’s lawyer, federal defender Joseph Bugni. “His true intention was to circumvent security and figure out how to shoot (Obama) with a slingshot.”
Dutcher was charged on July 2 with making a threat against the president. He was first detained for about 24 hours at a La Crosse mental health facility, where Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Pfluger said he also made threats against the staff, in particular a nurse whom he accused of “helping the tyrant,” Pfluger said.
Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker found probable cause that Dutcher had made the threats against Obama and ordered him kept in custody pending a trial in U.S. District Court. Dutcher is currently in the Dane County Jail.
Pfluger said the government will seek a formal indictment next week.
Bugni argued that he was trying to put Dutcher’s comments into context, to establish that it didn’t matter what other people thought Dutcher meant by his words but whether Dutcher himself believed what he was saying. He said there wasn’t enough information to establish probable cause that Dutcher had made threats against the president.
But Crocker said that the context, in which Dutcher not only made the initial comments but doubled down on them when interviewed by La Crosse police and the Secret Service, “doesn’t help Mr. Dutcher, it buries him.”
Ferris testified that Dutcher said he had hunted animals using the slingshot and that he could kill a human being with it. He also made reference to the biblical story of David and Goliath when talking about the slingshot, Ferris said.
The slingshot was found in Dutcher’s car, along with ball bearings to be used as projectiles. No firearms were found in the car, Ferris said, but he carried a hatchet under the front seat.
Bugni argued that Dutcher could safely be released to live with a friend, Leslie Huck, in Warrens. Huck testified that he has known Dutcher for many years, calling him “outspoken” about things that bother him, but “a good guy.”
He said he has never known Dutcher to be violent and said Dutcher mainly lives in his van or camps near Huck’s home.
But Crocker said that Dutcher was both a danger and a risk to flee rather than appear in court, given his anti-government expressions and his ability to live outdoors for long periods of time, which would make him hard to find.
“I have no assurances that Mr. Dutcher would stick around and face the charges or acknowledge the court’s authority over him,” Crocker said.