BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) – A federal judge cleared Bakersfield police officers who arrested a junior high school vice principal for having a loaded gun on campus, with a concealed carry permit.
U.S. District Judge Jennifer L. Thurston on Friday dismissed Kent Williams’ claims against Bakersfield and two of its school resource officers, finding the officers reasonably believed Williams had violated California’s Gun-Free Zone Act.
Mick Marderosian, who represented the city and the police officers, praised the ruling.
“I thought it was the correct decision on the part of Judge Thurston,” he told Courthouse News in an interview. “She found multiple grounds to dismiss his claims, and most importantly focused on protecting those students and the public.”
“When someone with a concealed carry permit, which turned out to be invalid, is making threatening statements about harming himself and others, the police had no other choice how to react,” he added.
“I don’t think anyone would have been comfortable if the police had just walked away.”
The act prohibits the possession or discharge of a firearm in a school zone, defined as 1,000 feet around public or private school grounds.
Though law enforcement officers and holders of concealed carry permits are exempt from the law, Panama Buena Vista Union School District has a policy banning concealed carry weapons on campus without approval from the superintendent.
Williams, 51, was vice principal at Tevis Junior High School when he was arrested on Aug. 28, 2014 after district officials told school police that a staff member had a gun on campus. The officers took Williams’ loaded Glock pistol and his concealed carry permit, then went to his home and confiscated his other legally registered guns, according to Williams’ December 2014 lawsuit.
He also claimed his diabetes was exacerbated by the arrest, requiring medical care. After being held for several hours, he was told he had not committed a crime and was released. The case was never submitted to the District Attorney’s Office for charges.
Williams sued the city and Officers Verion Coleman and Anthony McCarthy, seeking damages for 13 causes of action, including assault and battery, excessive force, false arrest, and civil rights violations.
In April 2015, Judge Thurston found that Williams did not allege sufficient facts to support his claims against the officers who took his gun and ordered him to amend his complaint.
After amendment, Williams’ claims for unreasonable search and seizure and wrongful arrest still did not pass the court’s muster because the officers knew Williams did not have permission to have the gun on campus. Moreover, Williams had previously made comments that he was going to “get” unidentified people before they “get” him, and had told the principal that he was “messed up in the head” and “on suicide watch,” according to Thurston’s summary judgment order.
Though the Gun Free School Act does contain an exemption for those with concealed carry permits, Officer Coleman reasonably believed that Williams had committed a crime by having the gun on campus and thus had probable cause to arrest Williams, Thurston wrote.
Because Williams kept the loaded gun in a backpack on the floor of his office, the defendants argued that the facts supported probable cause for several additional offenses, including child endangerment, public nuisance, and criminal storage of a firearm.
Thurston agreed, pointing out that a student could have been seriously hurt or killed because of access to a loaded gun. Even if students could not freely get into Williams’ office, “all that is required is a reasonable basis to infer that someone with evil motives – student or otherwise – could access the gun and the evidence shows this,” Thurston wrote.
Moreover, Williams’ own words about being on suicide watch and “getting them” while pantomiming shooting himself in the head indicate that he was possibly a danger to himself despite insisting otherwise when the officers questioned him. Coupled with leaving a loaded gun, which he was not supposed to have in the first place, in an unsecured location, the officers more than met their burden of proof for probable cause, Thurston wrote.
Given the officers’ probable cause to arrest Williams, his claims for false imprisonment failed to pass scrutiny, as did claims against the officers and city for negligence.
Bakersfield attorney Joel Andreeson with Rodriguez & Associates represented Williams. Heather Cohen with Marderosian, Cercone & Cohen of Fresno represented the defendants.
Neither attorney immediately returned emailed requests for comment sent Monday morning.
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