POSTED: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 - 8:30pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 2:21pm
BATON ROUGE, LA (NBC33) — A Baton Rouge attorney claims his client’s constitutional rights were violated when he was arrested for allegedly violating an obscure, outdated ordinance. It’s an issue, he says, that could impact all gun owners in Baton Rouge.
“I was rather shocked when I saw the charge,” Joe Donahue, Jr., Associate Attorney with McGlynn, Glisson & Mouton, said. “I’m not sure how often they use this ordinance. My thought is that someone did some research to find it so it can be used to do any number of things.”
The ordinance was enacted in 1951 under the Baton Rouge City Code. It restricts the use of a “dangerous weapon, in any premises where alcoholic beverages are sold and/or consumed on the premises.” It allows for an officer to confiscate any firearm or other weapon found on any person in any place where alcoholic beverages are sold or consumed.
“If you stop at a gas station, or are in the parking lot of an establishment that sells alcohol, it’s illegal in the city of Baton Rouge under this ordinance,” Donahue explained. “Anyone who carries a gun in their vehicle is going to break this law at some point.”
In 1984, the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that the ordinance cannot be used to search someone who is just in the parking lot of a business that sells alcohol. Instead, it only includes establishments where alcohol is being consumed.
“The purpose is to prevent people who are drinking and get drunk from having easy access to firearms,” Donahue explained. “Immediately after the state passed that statue, the city of Baton Rouge passed one as well.”
However, the original ordinance is still on the books.
“It’s an overreach of power,” Donahue said. “And, the prosecutor’s office is actually prosecuting these offenses.”
Although Donahue’s client had permits and legally obtained the firearms in his vehicle, they were confiscated under the 1951 ordinance. His client, who was originally pulled over because he did not have his headlights on, has not had his firearms returned since they were taken on October 13, 2012.
“We’ve requested the return of his guns and that they drop the charges and they declined to do either,” Donahue explained. “They say they are evidence of his offense.”
Donahue filed a lawsuit in Federal Court on Tuesday, Sept. 3 against the City of Baton Rouge, former Chief of Police Dewayne White [because the incident occurred in October 2012 under his leadership], current Chief of Police Carl Dabadie, Jr. [because the law continues to be enforced under his leadership], Parish Attorney Mary Roper, City Prosecutor Lisa Freeman, and three Baton Rouge Police Officers who were present during the arrest.
“The Baton Rouge Police Department, with the blessing of its chief of police, have been arresting people and depriving them of their fire arms under this ordinance that is overly-broad and unconstitutional. The city attorney and prosecutor should be aware that they have no right to enforce this law,” Donahue said. “That’s why they’re all named in the complaint.”
Donahue’s hope is to prevent the ordinance from being used in future cases.
“An injunction can be issued to say that you are not able to enforce this law anymore because it’s unconstitutional,” Donahue said.