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Assault on Process Servers Continues in 2015

  • March 16, 2015
  • by Stephanie Irvine

Process servers have a job that would seem impervious to trouble, but it can be dangerous work, especially when some recipients become hostile, directing their anger toward the process server. When process servers are assaulted, the repercussions often fail to fit the crime. Not only are process servers just trying to do their job, they are also upholding constitutional rights by providing the defendant with due process. If we continue to allow process servers to be assaulted without serious repercussions, we are sending a message that constitutional rights don’t matter, and that is simply not true. Process servers and the important job they do should be legally respected.

We first brought light to this issue in 2012 when we first launched the PAAPRS campaign to help bring forth awareness and promote further protection for process servers. Since then, over 100 assaults have been logged in our map of process server assaults, some as recently as this year.

assault-on-process-servers-continues-in-2015

Although the PAAPRS campaign has helped set the stage for legislation changes in many states, there is still a lot of work to be done. Currently, only California, Florida, and Illinois have legislation on the books making process server assault a felony. With the need for change still apparent, we’re taking an in-depth look at one process server assault to show exactly what can happen, what you should do if you are a victim of assault, and how we can all raise awareness and create change.

Process Server Assault: An In-Depth Look

John Tavernaro, a Vietnam War veteran and experienced process server, takes great pride in his country and the legal system. He believes in an individual’s right to due process, and he is active in the civil process service industry. At this time, he could be retired, but he is undeterred by the thought.

John Taverno has been a victim of process server assault on multiple occasions, but it wasn’t until he was held hostage with a 9mm gun to his neck before he realized just how dangerous his job was. I spoke with John Tavernaro of Tempe, Arizona over the phone as he recounted his experiences attempting service on known avoiders, about having had knives pulled on him and serving people in differing levels of poverty, filth, and hardship. He casually talked about the experiences he’d had as a process server and how serving difficult cases became part of the job. He then began to tell me of two serves from September 2010 and January 2011. They were two cases not unlike many others that had come across his desk in the past — Tavernaro specializes in serving defendants who are hard to find and difficult to serve. Most of the time, those cases came and went without major incident. This time was different.

On September 22, 2010, Tavernaro attempted service on Daniel Gukeisen and his wife, Kim Richter. Daniel Gukeisen was a former South Dakota Davison County State attorney and needed to be served on a civil matter. However, the attorney who hired Tavernaro told him that no one had been able to complete service. Tavernaro was undeterred. When he got to the residence, he observed a plethora of “No Trespassing Signs” planted firmly in the grounds of the residence. Knowing that he was within his right as a process server to approach the front door, he attempted service. He was met with hostility and anger, accosted, and was shoved over a short retaining wall. He ended up needing police assistance to get the documents served. Tavernaro candidly told me that he didn’t have much support from responding officers at that time, even with proper documentation and copies of state statutes highlighting his rights. Tavernaro chose to brush it off as a rough service, and he did not pursue the matter.

Tavernaro candidly told me that he didn’t have much support from responding officers at that time, even with proper documentation and copies of state statutes highlighting his rights. Tavernaro chose to brush it off as a rough service, and he did not pursue the matter.

Not filing charges against Gukeisen turned out to be a huge mistake, as Gukeisen later assaulted Tavernaro with a 9mm handgun when he returned January 26, 2011 to serve a different set of papers. According to police reports, Gukeisen recognized Tavernaro from the 2010 incident, and again became hostile, demanding that Tavernaro immediately leave and get off of his property. But Tavernaro had more documents to serve for a different case, and he knew he had a legal right to be there. After the first incident, Tavernaro thought it was clear that he was just the messenger — an officer of the Superior Court. Knowing that Gukeisen was an attorney gave Tavernaro the false impression that he knew better. Tavernaro was just there to serve documents and leave.

It didn’t matter to Gukeisen and his wife. Again, Tavernaro was pushed over the short retaining wall. Tavernaro thought after he was shoved and the defendant turned back toward the house that he could drop the papers, but that wasn’t what happened. This time, Gukeisen reappeared with a 9mm handgun, charged Tavernaro, and pressed the gun to Tavernaro’s neck, forcing Tavernaro down on his knees and scared to move. The police report indicated that the barrel of the gun was pressed so hard that it left a “red mark [that] appeared to stay throughout the time we were at the scene.”  After desperately trying to reason with Gukeisen, Tavernaro finally got through to him. Gukeisen agreed to let him go— but only on the condition that he “forget” about the incident. But Tavernaro didn’t forget. Instead, he quickly went back to his car and notified police who were already on the way. Gukeisen’s wife, Kim Richter, had called 911 to tell police that they “had” Tavernaro and that he was harassing them and trespassing. Multiple officers responded to the 911 calls, and Tavernaro met them as they arrived. Several witness statements were taken, all of which provided a clear picture of what happened: Tavernaro had arrived to serve papers on a civil matter, was assaulted, and threatened by a dangerous individual.

The second event was dealt with urgency, and responding officers took the event seriously. Although Tavernaro chose not to file charges on Gukeisen for the initial incident, his decision to call police at that time created a record that further backed up Tavernaro’s account of the most recent assault.

When I asked Tavernaro if he was scared for his life, he explained, “I’ve been cold-cocked, had knives pulled on me, been threatened with a gun before, and even after three tours in Vietnam, I would’ve been stupid not to be [scared]. I didn’t have to change my underwear afterwards, but I had a gun at my neck and under my chin.” Despite his fear, Tavernaro made the choice to call the police, file a report, and pursue charges. The second event was dealt with urgency, and responding officers took the event seriously. Although Tavernaro chose not to file charges on Gukeisen for the initial incident, his decision to call police at that time created a record that further backed up Tavernaro’s account of the most recent assault. John Tavernaro later found out that Gukeisen was also embroiled in a manslaughter case at that time.

Arrest Report and Charges

According to Maricopa County court records, Gukeisen was indicted on May 18, 2011, on charges of criminal damage (Arizona Revised Statute 13-1602), kidnapping (ARS 13-1304) and aggravated assault ARS 13-1204), stemming from the January 26, 2011 incident at Gukeisen’s residence. Although Gukeisen initially plead not guilty to all charges, he subsequently accepted a plea bargain on November 29, 2011. Daniel Gukeisen is currently serving his 6.5-year sentence in Tucson at the Arizona Department of Corrections for aggravated assault and kidnapping, both felonies in Arizona. The sentence is being served concurrently with an unrelated manslaughter charge from 2008, which means that he will serve an additional year and a half. He was sentenced to five years in prison for the stabbing death of Arizona State University Student Garrett Hohn in September 2008.

Speak Out: Prevention and Awareness

Be sure to speak with your client to get as much information about the individual you are serving. Even if you aren’t able to secure information on the client’s background, check out the documents you’re serving to see if there are any hints to the defendant’s behavior and be sure to proceed with caution. Have an exit strategy and be aware of your surroundings. You can read more tips about serving papers here: Tips for Preventing Process Server Assault.

Take extra precaution when serving defendants who may become hostile. You might want to invest in a dashcam or recording device to take video of the service while you are effectuating service (provided it is lawful in your state). This will help you in multiple ways: it will serve as additional evidence that documents were served, it will be evidence in the event you are assaulted, and it is a true and accurate record of how the serve was conducted. In the event that you are falsely accused of a crime by defendants or third parties, you will have a copy of what went down. Recently, a process server was falsely accused of committing a crime but was vindicated when he was able to produce a video of the event.

What to Do if You Are Assaulted on a Serve

If you’ve been assaulted, call the police immediately, file a police report, and pursue charges. If you choose not to pursue charges, be sure to document the incident. You can read about more options for what to do if you’ve been assaulted on a serve in an article we published as part of the PAAPRS campaign.

Luckily, Tavernaro made the right choices in each incident by calling the police, filing a report, and eventually pursuing charges. When officers responded to the second incident, they were able to see the details of what happened when Tavernaro previously served Daniel Gukeisen and his wife, Kim Richter. This put officers in a better position to protect Tavernaro and understand his perspective.

It is imperative that if you are assaulted that you follow through with filing charges after the police have been called. If process servers don’t take a stand, they risk putting themselves or others in danger in the future. Every time a crime is reported, you are making an effort to prevent another attack from occurring.

Help Promote Awareness

Process Server Safety

If you would like to be more active in preventing process server assault, join the PAAPRS campaign by logging assaults in the process server assault map, signing the petition to make an assault on a process server a felony in all states, and sharing the #dontshoothemessenger video with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. Be sure to support your local process server association's efforts and help encourage legislators to make changes.

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