Reno man wanted in slaying sought in shooting of judge
Associated Press Writer
RENO – A family court judge was shot and wounded as he stood near a third-floor courthouse window Monday, and police were looking for a man suspected in a slaying across town who had appeared before the judge in a divorce case.
Investigators said Darren Roy Mack, a suspect in a killing reported at an apartment building Monday afternoon, was a “person of interest” in the shooting at the courthouse, Reno Deputy Police Chief Jim Johns said.
Judge Chuck Weller was hit in the chest around midday by a shot that came through his office window at the Mills B. Lane Justice Center, and police sealed off the area and searched nearby parking garages for a sniper.
The killing at the apartment building and the courthouse shooting apparently happened within hours of each other, police said.
The apartment was home to Mack’s estranged wife, Charla Mack, 39, according to a background check by the Internet search engine Intelius. A call to Charla Mack’s apartment was not immediately returned Monday night.
Reno police spokesman Steve Frady said Monday night the name of the victim was being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
According to Washoe County District Court records, Charla Mack filed for divorce on Feb. 7, 2005. A two-day custody hearing was scheduled before Weller for Sept. 7 of this year and a mutual restraining order was signed in May 2005, according to court records.
Mack “had recent dealings with the judge and the family court section” in his divorce, Johns said, calling it “an obvious connection.”
Police also reported that a bomb-sniffing dog had alerted officers to the judge’s car in the court’s parking garage. A bomb squad was investigating but determined there were no explosives.
Flights were suspended for about an hour at Reno-Tahoe International Airport late Monday night and four planes were searched after a SWAT team responded to a reported sighting of Mack’s sports utility vehicle at a parking garage, but it turned out not to be his and there was no sign of Mack, authorities said.
“The lead was strong enough that police responded with a large group of officers,” airport spokesman Brian Kulpin said. “The entire airport was searched and will continue to be searched. We’re in a hyper state of vigilance.”
Another Mack vehicle was found abandoned in Reno earlier in the day.
Weller, 53, was shot in the chest “at least once” by a “high velocity projectile, possibly a rifle,” Johns said. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he was reported in serious but stable condition.
“He is conscious and talking with his family,” police spokesman Steve Frady said. A woman who was with the judge, Annie Allison, believed to be Weller’s secretary, was hit by glass or bullet fragments in her arm and hip, but her wounds were superficial, and she was treated and released, Frady said.
Mack, a Reno businessman, had a connection to the judge through a recent divorce case, Johns said.
“We do not have enough information to say he is a suspect” in the shooting of Weller, Johns said.
“He had recent dealings with the judge and the family court section. … It is an obvious connection we are obviously going to investigate,” he said.
An attorney who has been involved in Mack’s divorce case, who asked not to be named because of personal safety concerns, told The Associated Press that the couple’s divorce proceeding was “a very very heated and emotional case.”
The slaying victim had not been identified.
Mack worked at a Reno jewelry store and pawn shop within a few blocks of the courthouse. A woman who answered the telephone Monday afternoon said he was not there.
“From what we know, he hasn’t even been in today,” she said. The woman, who declined to be identified, said Mack’s son was at Mack’s mother’s house.
“I think there was a family emergency so Darren’s probably over there,” she said.
Mack’s photograph, along with his wife and three children, also appears on a Web site advertising the sale of diamonds and other jewelry. On the Web site, he wrote:
“My name is Darren Mack, and I am the third generation owner of a small business in Reno, Nevada. My family has owned and operated small businesses in Nevada for 45 years.”
A man who answered the listed telephone number told AP it was a business number, not a number for Mack. Asked if he could locate Mack, the man who refused to give his name said, “I’m sorry, I’ll have to contact a lawyer before I can talk to anyone” and hung up.
A telephone number listed for Darren and Charla Mack was out of service.
Family court officials said the sniper could be someone unhappy with a ruling in a child custody case, and a survey of Internet Web sites shows many postings by people unhappy with Weller and his family court decisions.
“The incident is shocking, but the risk is not shocking. We’re well aware this is the inherent risk of trying to solve conflicts. Sometimes you don’t solve them peacefully and people take the law into their own hands,” said Darin Conforti, court administrator of Reno Justice Court.
Police closed off six blocks around the courthouse on the edge of Reno’s downtown casino district, which otherwise remained open. A SWAT team was called in, and officers conducted a floor-by-floor search of the courthouse and the neighboring parking garages.
“We don’t know precisely where that round may have come from, so we have to close down and search a large area just north of the court complex,” Undersheriff Mike Haley said.
Local television footage showed SWAT team members in full riot gear searching a movie theater a block from the courthouse as surprised movie-goers looked on. SWAT snipers set up on a restaurant patio across the street.
Weller, a Reno lawyer, was elected to the bench in 2004. He hosted a legal advice program on a Reno radio station from 1989 to 2002 and wrote a legal advice column in the Sunday Reno Gazette-Journal from 2000 to 2004. He once led opposition to a county bond issue to build a new courthouse.
After the shooting, city and county employees were kept inside the building for safety reasons for up to four hours. Officials in the older Washoe County courthouse building across the street were instructed to lock themselves in their offices, pull the blinds and turn off the lights.
“I wasn’t sure if the gunman was running the hallways,” said Christine Kuhl, an administrative assistant to another judge.
Family court proceedings scheduled Tuesday were canceled
In Las Vegas, security was increased at the Regional Justice Center and Family Court and Services Center, court spokesman Michael Sommermeyer said.
“It’s just terrifying. It’s very scary. It’s speculation, but I would say it was the work of a disgruntled person,” said Reno Justice of the Peace Harold Albright, a friend of Weller’s. “Family court judges take people’s children away and take property away. Those are such basic decisions that are very emotional.”
Albright added: “It’s still very shocking. He’s a nice guy and real hardworking. I can’t imagine he would be gruff or disparaging to anyone in his courtroom. He’s not a brusque, grumpy person.”
Associated Press writers Martin Griffith and Tom Gardner in Reno, Brendan Riley in Carson City and Christina Almeida in Los Angeles also contributed to this report.