BARSTOW Former Barstow Police Department officer and one-time City Council candidate Richard Villegas will go to trial on charges that he threatened his wife and tried to kidnap a man he believed to be her lover.

At a preliminary hearing Tuesday, Judge John B. Gibson ruled that Villegas, who was arrested April 7, will be held to answer in trial on three counts of making criminal threats against his wife, Tiara Villegas, and one count of attempted kidnapping against her friend and coworker Christopher Himmelrick.

Gibson reduced a charge of second-degree robbery which stemmed from Villegas allegedly taking Himmelrick's cell phone and refusing to return it to a charge of grand theft from a person.

He also upheld a charge of dissuading a witness, with the alleged victim being Tiara. The District Attorney's office elected not to go forward with a seventh charge for possession of an assault rifle that stemmed from an incident in July of 2008, but Deputy District Attorney Sean Daugherty declined to elaborate on the reasons for not pursuing the charge.

A late-night text message from Himmelrick to Tiara's phone spurred a confrontation between the couple in the early hours of April 7, Tiara testified.

Tiara said Villegas motioned at her with the keys to his gun safe while they were arguing and said something bad would happen if she did not give him the phone; and that later, after forcibly taking the phone from her, he told her that he would leave her in the desert before he would give it back.

Other people who came to the house that night and witnessed parts of the confrontation, including the mothers of both Tiara and Richard and a friend of Richard's, did not testify during the preliminary hearing.

The following day, during a confrontation with both Tiara and Himmelrick outside their workplace, Tiara testified that Villegas said, "If the police are involved, I will have nothing to live for, so I might as well pop, pop, pop," gesturing towards his own chest with his thumb.

Tiara said she had not called the police, fearing that it would jeopardize her husband's current job as a federal correctional officer. He lost his job with Barstow Police Department in April 2008, and Tiara claimed it was partially due to a physical confrontation between the two in which she called the police. It was Himmelrick who called the police on April 7.

According to testimony by Tiara and Himmelrick, Villegas arranged a meeting with Himmelrick after Tiara went to work that morning. Villegas allegedly took the other man's cell phone and tried to force him into Villegas' truck.

Officers found an unloaded pistol and a loaded magazine in the truck when they arrested Villegas later that day, Det. Keith Libby testified.
Tiara testified that she initially deleted Himmelrick's message and lied to Villegas saying that the message was from her mother because she was afraid that he would become angry and jealous.

Himmelrick he had intended to send the message, a series of pictures of women splashing in a spa, too another friend and sent it to Tiara by mistake, but at another point he said he thought Tiara would find the pictures funny.

When asked by Villegas' defense attorney Jon Mahlum if she was having an affair with Himmelrick, Tiara denied it.

Mahlum questioned Tiara's credibility and argued that even according to her testimony, Villegas had never explicitly threatened her. If she had really been in fear for her life, she would have taken their three children and left the house rather than staying through the night, he said. He also argued that the alleged attempt to get Himmelrick into Villegas' truck did not rise to the level of kidnapping.

Gibson denied a request to release Villegas on his own recognizance or reduce his bail from the $500,000 where it was previously set. Mahlum had argued based on Villegas' family ties, home ownership and long history of community service in Barstow that he would not pose a flight risk.

"I have grave doubts as to his ability, when it comes to this situation, to control himself and conform his conduct, and I think it would be wishful thinking at best to believe he could put his emotions under control," Gibson said.

Friends and family members of Villegas present at the hearing declined to comment.

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(760) 256-4123 or asewell@desertdispatch.com