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California

Despite court order to give up weapons, Tehama gunman fired guns with impunity, frightening neighbors

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Kevin Janson Neal
(Tehama County Sheriff’s Office )

In March, a Tehama County judge ordered Kevin Janson Neal to stay away from neighbors and turn in his firearms.

But that edict, part of a temporary restraining order sought by his neighbor, did not keep Neal away from his weapons. Residents said that in recent months they heard him shooting off guns at his home with impunity. Some complained to authorities, to no avail.

Then, on Tuesday, he went on a rampage across his rural community of Rancho Tehama, killing 5 people, wounding 10 and shooting up a local elementary school.

Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said Wednesday that authorities were unaware that Neal had been required to give up his guns.

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Since January, Johnston said, his department had responded to multiple calls from Rancho Tehama residents that Neal was shooting, and one woman told the Times she summoned officers a week ago after hearing screaming, followed by gunfire, from the general vicinity of his house.

The order for Neal to turn in his weapons was automatically entered into the state’s criminal records system to put officers on alert. Proof of service records show a Sheriff’s Department employee delivered the court order to the home of Neal, according to the order. Court records show that he turned in one gun in February and claimed he didn’t own any more.

The Sheriff’s Department had handled a criminal case against Neal involving a neighbor whom he allegedly stabbed in the abdomen in January, and those charges remained pending.

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According to court records, Hailey Suzanne Poland sought a court order protecting herself and her mother- and father-in-law, ages 68 and 74, as well as her boyfriend, identified as Danny Elliott, 38, and a 7-year-old boy.

She alleged that Neal harassed her and guests, and she complained of his “use of firearms.”

Without naming her, sheriff’s officials have confirmed that the woman seeking the protective order was among Neal’s first victims.

She gave her address as 6955 Bobcat Lane in Rancho Tehama, and Neal’s as 6970 on the same road.

In her restraining order request, Poland, 33, said he had “verbally abused every house member (including child) and has assaulted two house members in face, and stabbed another house member.”

She said the harassment occurred “on a daily basis.”

“He attacked me and my mother-in-law stabbing me with a knife and beating her and myself,” she wrote. In her handwritten complaint, she said he “threatened with a gun and shot gun off, used a knife to stab and hold against will. Shot a gun with intent to scare or harm.”

She described being stabbed with a seven-inch knife, “also punched in the face, another house member was punched in face, and thrown down to the ground.”

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Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said this week’s rampage underscores the idea that the standards for who can possess guns are only as effective as a jurisdiction’s commitment to enforcing them.

Authorities said they had tried to make contact with Neal at his door, and at least twice had his house under surveillance. A critical next step, Webster said, would have been to get a search warrant.

“If you’re in law enforcement, you don’t want to be in that sheriff’s shoes right now. You don’t want to be that sheriff that didn’t take the steps,” Webster said. “The warning signs were very clear. … He was shooting off lots and lots of rounds, so he clearly has a lot of ammo.”

Court records show Neal also faced multiple felony charges, including accusations of second-degree robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, negligent firing of a firearm, battery and false imprisonment by violence.

The criminal complaint alleges that on Jan. 31, he stole property from Poland’s mother-in-law and assaulted Poland with a knife. No details of the incident are in the court file, but it does contain another protective order that also required Neal to surrender any firearms.

Attorney Leo Barone said he was hired by Neal after his arrest in January. Barone said that Neal had an ongoing dispute with a neighbor and that they would often call the authorities on each other. He said he stopped representing Neal a few months back.

Barone said Neal was known to make strange comments but never hinted at violence.

“He was making bizarre statements, and I confronted him about it and he didn’t like being confronted.”

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Attorney Alessio Larrabee, who was representing Neal before the shooting rampage, declined to comment Wednesday afternoon.

Times staff writer Ruben Vives contributed to this report.

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Judge ordered gunman to surrender weapons before he killed wife and hid body under their Rancho Tehama home


UPDATES:

6:30 p.m.: This article was updated with an interview with a gun policy expert.

This article was originally published at 4:50 p.m.


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