Crime

San Gabriel Elementary threat defendant will get one year in jail

Bret Landen, 18, accused of causing the closure of San Gabriel Elementary School in September 2015, pleaded no contest Wednesday to two charges of making threats. Landen is seen here at a preliminary hearing.
Bret Landen, 18, accused of causing the closure of San Gabriel Elementary School in September 2015, pleaded no contest Wednesday to two charges of making threats. Landen is seen here at a preliminary hearing. Davidmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The teenager accused of making elaborate threats that led to the two-week-long closure of San Gabriel Elementary School in September will be sentenced to a year in San Luis Obispo County Jail following a plea in court Wednesday.

With standard jail credits, Bret Stephen Landen, 18, could be released in far less time, but a spokesman for the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office could not be reached for further information Wednesday afternoon.

Landen, of Atascadero, was originally charged with 30 felonies related to horror movie-style riddles he left on notes for staff members at San Gabriel Elementary on Sept. 11, 2015, that urged them to “play a game.”

A container with a low-toxicity form of cyanide was found fastened to a chain-link fence near a student playground.

The incident led police and Atascadero Unified School District to close the campus for two weeks, rerouting students to neighboring schools while hazardous materials crews surveyed the campus for anything dangerous.

At a pretrial hearing in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Wednesday, Landen entered no-contest pleas to single felony counts of threatening the use of a weapon of mass destruction and criminal threats. The remaining counts were dismissed, according to court records.

The plea will count as a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes Law.

In return, Landen is scheduled to be sentenced to one year in County Jail and five years of formal probation. He will also be required to undergo unspecified counseling.

Under the terms of his probation, he’s not allowed to possess firearms, may not leave the state and is ordered to stay at least 100 yards away from any school with the exception of Saddleback College, a community college in Mission Viejo.

According to a District Attorney’s Office news release, Landen’s plea subjects him to a maximum of six years and eight months in state prison if he violates his probation and court requirements.

In crafting the plea deal, the District Attorney’s Office said in a statement, prosecutors were mindful of the “level of sophistication” demonstrated by Landen in the commission of the crimes, which it called premeditated, well-organized and precisely executed.

“In addition, the level of anxiety his crimes instilled in the community, the loss of emotional security and feelings of vulnerability experienced by those associated with San Gabriel Elementary School, and the profound financial losses suffered by the Atascadero School District warrant a stiff penalty, which will be accomplished with this sentence,” the statement reads.

Though he is due to be sentenced June 1, Landen is scheduled to surrender to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office at a court readiness conference April 27, according to records.

The school district has filed for about $206,000 in restitution against Landen for costs incurred by the closure of the elementary school. The county Probation Department will weigh in on proposed restitution at the time of Landen’s sentencing, and a restitution determination hearing will be scheduled.

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