A nationally known Naples child psychiatrist who pointed a gun at his teenage son’s friend, then allegedly threatened his 15-year-old son, pleaded today to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to probation.
Dr. James L. Schaller, 50, pleaded no contest to a third-degree felony involving a 14-year-old former neighbor as part of a plea deal that dropped a similar count involving his son, who had tried to intercede during an altercation on Jan. 2. The Daily News is withholding the minors’ names.
Assistant State Attorney James Stewart said the 14-year-old boy and his mother agreed to the plea deal, but have moved to Michigan and couldn’t attend sentencing. Schaller faced up to five years in state prison on each count, but had no prior record.
Standing in a gray suit, with a bandaged hand behind his back, Schaller told the judge it was “definitely” in his best interests not to go to trial. Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt then adjudicated him guilty and sentenced him to four years of probation on the condition he undergo a mental health evaluation and not contact the victim.
“He’s already done all of the mental health (evaluations) in regard to the DCF case that has been pending,” defense attorney Lee Hollander said of a related family court case brought by the state Department of Children and Families.
As Hardt finished, Schaller’s wife, Joyce, who sat in court, cleared her throat twice, prompting Hollander to ask the judge to lift a no-contact order that prevented Schaller from seeing his sons.
“The nolle pros dissolves that no-contact order,” Hardt said of the dismissed charge, adding that what’s next is up to Circuit Judge Elizabeth Krier, who presides over the DCF case.
Joyce Schaller then burst into tears, prompting Hollander to console her as her husband was fingerprinted.
“He hasn’t seen his sons in nine months and they miss him desperately,” she said after sentencing. “Judge Krier said it was fine, but Judge Hardt wouldn’t let him. It’s horrible. They’ve destroyed our family. No contact means no contact. We obeyed it to the letter of the law.”
Krier had granted a motion for supervised visitation for both boys. A criminal judge usually follows that, but at a criminal hearing in July, a prosecutor argued there could be witness tampering because Schaller’s son was a witness and victim. Citing concern, Hardt barred contact with the oldest son.
Joyce Schaller had moved out of their home on Indigo Lakes Circle to comply with the order and regain custody of their sons, who had been in foster homes.
“They kind of ran into a road block in the DCF case,” Hollander said of James Schaller’s no-contact order, adding that he can now finish his DCF case plan.
Joyce Schaller, who finished her case plan, is expected to regain full custody in October, lifting state supervision.
“My sons have expressed profound joy that they’re going to see me again, since for the last decade we’ve spent only a few hours apart daily,” James Schaller said after hugging his wife.
Schaller, an author of 25 books, including children’s fiction, specializes in child and psychiatry, ADD, oppositional disorders, “mystery illnesses,” Lyme Disease, fatigue, and mold problems. The staunch gun advocate, whose guns were seized after his arrest, offers telephone consultations on his websites.
As a convicted felon, he is now barred from possessing guns. He faces possible discipline by the state medical board; that case is pending.
His medical license is clean here and in Pennsylvania, where he practiced before.
Controversy over his practice has prompted some to attack him on blogs and websites, calling him a quack and pervert, and urging patients to report him to licensing boards. In February, Schaller filed a libel and defamation lawsuit against several defendants, accusing them of tarnishing his good reputation.
The case is pending in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers.
In the Collier case, deputies were called to the neighbor’s home after 11 p.m. Jan. 2. Reports say both boys sneaked out and were caught by the friend’s mother, who argued with her son when he refused to get in her car.
When she spanked him on the buttocks with a switch, he threatened to hit her if she continued and pushed her when she spanked him again.
Reports say Schaller went inside his house and returned with a small black revolver and pointed it at the boy, saying “That is assault and battery. Get into the car or I will blow your head off.”
Reports say Schaller’s son tried to “prevent his father from shooting (the friend) and that is when James Schaller turned toward (his son) and threatened to blow his head off also.”
The 14-year-old’s family confirmed what occurred, telling deputies the boy “was in fear for his life.”
Schaller told deputies he always carries a revolver and had other guns. Deputies seized three more, but he refused to unlock gun cabinets, prompting a judge to order their surrender.