A former Green Hill School employee is facing charges in Lewis County Superior Court for allegedly giving a gun to a former inmate who was later arrested in connection to drive-by shootings in Cowlitz County.
The former employee is also accused of lying to police by claiming the gun was stolen from his vehicle while it was parked at the Chehalis juvenile detention facility.
The defendant, Mason R. Connelly, 24, of Winlock, pleaded not guilty to charges of unlawful delivery of a firearm and making a false or misleading statement to a public servant on Tuesday.
The investigation that led to those charges began after four men ages 18 to 20 were arrested for their alleged involvement in three drive-by shootings in the Longview-Kelso area that occurred between 1:13 and 2:15 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022.
The men allegedly shot from a light-colored, four-door sedan into two unoccupied homes, one in the 900 block of Cedar Street in South Kelso and one near Long Avenue and West Cowlitz Way in Kelso, and into an occupied vehicle in the 4100 block of Ocean Beach Highway outside Longview in Cowlitz County, according to previous reporting by The Longview Daily News.
Law enforcement pursued and arrested the suspects after they fled over the Lewis and Clark Bridge into Oregon, according to the Longview Daily News.
Upon their arrest, detectives recovered a S&W MP .40 caliber handgun that was registered to Connelly, according to court documents.
Connelly had reported a burglary to his Winlock residence on Nov. 4, 2021 and claimed two firearms were stolen; but the serial number on the recovered gun didn’t match either of the ones that had been reported stolen.
The suspect in possession of the gun at the time of the arrest was then-18-year-old Andres Gabriel Gonzales.
Detectives with the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office soon gained a search warrant for Gonzales’ cellphone and reportedly discovered multiple text messages between Gonzales and Connelly. One message dated Jan. 13, 2022 “suggests” Connelly provided Gonzales with a firearm, according to court documents.
Gonzales reportedly told Connelly he had to dump the firearm and offered to try and get him money for it. Connelly allegedly replied, “I’ll report it stolen in a few days no if you can get me $600 it’s good,” adding, “I was honestly gonna sell you it anyways,” according to court documents.
About a month later, on Feb. 12, 2022, Connelly contacted the Chehalis Police Department to report the gun that officers found on Gonzales was stolen. Connelly reportedly claimed it had been stolen out of his truck while it was parked at Green Hill School.
A few days earlier, on Feb. 7, Connelly was “separated” from his job at Green Hill School “because he stopped showing up for work,” per the court documents.
Ten months later, in December 2022, an officer with the Centralia Police Department reportedly contacted and interviewed Connelly.
During that interview, Connelly allegedly admitted to lying to the Chehalis Police Department about the gun being stolen “because he knew it had been used for a crime and he didn’t want to get in trouble,” per court documents. According to Connelly, Gonzales said “he wanted the gun for protection,” a request Connelly said he didn’t find “unreasonable” because he also carried a gun “for the same reason.”
Connelly reportedly said he met Gonzales at Green Hill but didn’t know Gonzales’ criminal history prohibited him from legally possessing a firearm.
The Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office filed charges against Connelly on Dec. 30, 2022.
Connelly was issued a summons notice on Jan. 6 ahead of a Jan. 24 preliminary hearing, which Connelly was present for alongside defense attorney Shane O’Rourke.
Connelley’s bail was set at $10,000 unsecured on Tuesday, meaning he can remain out of custody for the duration of his case so long as he abides by his conditions of release, which include showing up to all mandatory court hearings and not committing any crimes.
Trial for Connelly’s case is scheduled to begin April 17. A trial confirmation hearing is scheduled for April 13.