Updated with City Clerk’s comment at the end:
Aaron Stevenson of Chapman Avenue sat quietly and unnoticed at Roanoke City Council Monday evening. No one saw he had a holstered handgun at his waist.
He waited two hours and was the last speaker to address city council. When he took the podium it became clear he was armed. “It was his 2nd amendment right and there was nothing illegal about it whatsoever,” said Police Chief Chris Perkins in a phone call.
After the school board shooting in Florida and the gunman’s attack on Arizona’s Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords Roanoke City council had a police presence at briefings and council meetings. That practice has been discontinued and no law enforcement presence was at Monday evening’s council meeting.
No council members seemed unnerved but city manager Chris Morrill who sat next to Stevenson while he was at the podium expressed surprise after adjournment. City attorney Bill Hackworth said he knew what was coming as soon as Stevenson’s name was called.
Hackworth defended police officers in a May 6, 2009 incident where Stevenson was stopped in his vehicle for having an expired registration. He was detained for refusing to acknowledge possession of a handgun. He was handcuffed and his weapon was removed.
On July 23, 2010, Chief District Judge Glen Conrad said in an opinion that “The court regrets that he was detained for actions which were not contrary to Virginia law … the police must be held to standards of reasonableness not of perfection.”
Chief Perkins explained that the Supreme Court ruled “that if officers are suspicious of a person that is involved or has been involved in criminal activity based on certain circumstances officers have the right to confirm or dispel an activity. If they are armed and presently dangerous they have the right to detain and frisk that person for a weapon.”
Weighing public safety with 2nd amendment rights sometimes becomes “very blurred” said Perkins. Officers have had extensive training and have performed appropriately on all cases he is aware of.
Present law allows the carry of a firearm at public meetings like council meetings as long as a person is non-threatening. “We are vested with the responsibility of public safety,” said Perkins.
The level of suspicion follows three broad categories: Authority to search with consent of the citizen – reasonable suspicion of criminal activity gives limited search powers depending on the actions of the suspect – probable cause that a crime has been committed that gives officers the right to search for evidence.
“Law enforcement and the criminal justice system is not a specific science like mathematics … Officers have to base that decision on what they have at the time,” said Perkins.
At Monday evening’s council meeting Stevenson complained that on May 29 at Festival in the Park he carried his handgun for protection. He said he was confronted by Event Zone president Travis Sorrells and told it was against Event Zone rules to have his pistol there and that it was a private not public event. Stevenson said he placed his firearm in his vehicle then returned.
He then refused to be searched by Event Zone security agents. Police were called, he was handcuffed and searched said Stevenson. He was subsequently released and the police told Event Zone security that Stevenson had a right to carry his handgun at the public event.
Stevenson called the Event Zone security agents “incompetent.” He asked the city for the names of the agents.
He blamed both the city and Event Zone and asked that the city terminate Event Zone’s contract with the city and cut off funding. Mayor Bowers directed Stevenson’s comments to the city attorney and city manager for response.
City Clerk, Stephanie Moon said, “In my 34 years with the Clerk’s Office, I cannot recall anyone carrying a weapon into a Council meeting.”
Posted By Valerie Garner
Categories: Crime, Politics, Roanoke City Politics
Tags: city_council, crime, Law_enforcement, lawsuit