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Man in MUMS case seeks return of his guns

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Posted on January 10, 2019 |
By John Flowers



MIDDLEBURY — The Addison County resident whose firearms were confiscated by police in order to keep them from a boy who had allegedly planned to shoot up Middlebury Union Middle School last month has regained access to his guns and could have them returned to his home as soon as this week.

Addison County State’s Attorney Dennis Wygmans and Middlebury police confirmed that news early this week as an Addison County Family Court judge prepared to hear details of the high-profile case involving a 14-year-old MUMS student who had allegedly planned to shoot a fellow student, and anyone else who got in the way, on the school campus on Dec. 18.

Also implicated in the case is another 14-year-old student who had allegedly offered to procure weapon(s), from a relative, for the alleged planned shooting.

Authorities thwarted the plan thanks to information supplied by another MUMS student. The Addison Central School District board on Monday agreed to draft a resolution honoring that student in what will be, by necessity, a somewhat muted accolade; the boy and his family have decided to remain anonymous.

Also maintaining anonymity is the man whose guns were confiscated as part of the Middlebury police investigation into the alleged shooting plan. Officials stressed the man did nothing wrong. Middlebury police seized his weapons — largely consisting of hunting guns — after successfully applying to an Addison County judge for an “Extreme Risk Protection Order,” or ERPO. Vermont’s Act 97 states that an ERPO “prohibits a person from possessing a firearm or explosive for up to six months if the court finds that the person’s possession of the weapon poses an extreme risk of harm to the person or to other people.”

Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said his department applied for an ERPO in this case in order to quickly separate the alleged, would-be shooter from his stated source of weapons.

The man and his guns have been reunited, albeit (for now) at a separate location.

On Monday, Hanley confirmed a recent agreement allowing the gun owner’s weapons to be transferred from Middlebury police headquarters to a vetted friend on Friday, Jan. 4. The agreement allows the gun owner to freely access his weapons at his friend’s house pending an Addison County Family Court hearing slated for Wednesday, Jan. 9. The judge at that hearing was scheduled to consider, among other things, a request by the man to have his guns returned to his home, according to Wygmans.

“We did agree to allow him to retrieve his firearms and bring them to a third-party’s residence, with the third party and he agreeing that they would not allow access to the firearms by the (student who allegedly wanted to access them),” Wygmans said during a recent phone interview.

“From our perspective, the guns are back in his possession,” he added. “He can use them freely. He can sell them. He can trade them for other things that he wants. Whatever he wants to do with them he can do, he just can’t use them with the child or allow the child to have access to them.”

Police and court officials continue to withhold the name of the gun owner, because the underlying case involves two juveniles who remain indefinitely suspended from MUMS as they await potential punishment as juveniles.

Court records in juvenile cases are sealed.

The Independent asked Wygmans to extend the gun owner an invitation to be interviewed by this newspaper. The Independent had not been contacted by the man by Wednesday’s deadline.

CITIZEN RIGHTS

Vermont is one of around a dozen states that have adopted ERPO as a means of defusing potentially deadly situations involving firearms. Still, many Second Amendment advocates sharply criticized Middlebury police for their use of an ERPO in the MUMS case.

Middlebury PD’s Facebook page currently features more than 60 comments related to the MUMS case. A sampling of the printable comments includes:

•  “The largest and deadliest gang in the world are issued badges and kingpins,” wrote Jay Stone.

•  “Does anyone know if there is a legal fund set up yet to sue the police department, judge who signed this and the town into dust yet?” wrote Scott Dobrowolski.

•  “So you basically violated this man’s lawful right to protect & feed his family when he did absolutely nothing wrong, simply because of the words of a couple teenagers?” wrote Rick J. Mac.

•  “These people are thugs and goons and criminals and the judge and every police involved needs to be arrested and prosecuted for treason,” wrote Caspa Cz.

•  “You went into someones home and illegal (sic) took their firearms,” wrote Stephaine Carr. “I pray you are all arrested charged and spend years in prison. You are bad cops. Wouldn’t have gone your way with me.”

Hanley acknowledged his department has received numerous phone calls, some of them laced with threats and foul language.

But the chief remains confident his department did the right thing in temporarily removing the guns from the home in question.

“We got the order and the order was complied with,” Hanley said. “It was obviously upsetting (to the gun owner), and we get that. We got barraged with threats from all over the country about ‘trampling on the Constitution’ and ‘red flag’ operations. But that’s what happens when you do things that might not otherwise be popular.”

Wygmans agreed, and rejected an argument posited by some Second Amendment supporters that police could have simply warned the gun owner to make sure his weapons were secured from his young relative.

“One of the first weaknesses in that (argument) is to presume the kid didn’t have access (to the guns) if they were locked,” Wygmans said. “There’s one person who knew for sure if he had access to a key or knew the combination to the safe. That’s the same person we are attempting to obtain a protective order for.”

It would have been irresponsible to take a chance the student didn’t possess the combination or key for his relative’s gun safe, according to Wygmans.

“You could ask anyone else in the household and they would tell you, ‘Well, I’m pretty sure.’ They can’t tell you 100 percent that he doesn’t know what the combination is, or that he doesn’t have access to a key, or hasn’t made a copy of the key,” Wygmans said.

“There’s only one way to find out — he gains access and then he goes and shoots up the school as he had threatened,” he added. “Is that the outcome we want? I don’t think so.”

The ERPO provided a quick, definitive way to sequester the guns and allow for the owner to reclaim them after the potential danger had passed, according to Wygmans.

“It allows for an ex-parte order to be issued because it’s one of those ‘Act first, ask questions later’ scenarios; that’s why there’s a hearing later on,” he said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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