Judge denies man gun ownership

Two days after a gunman with reported mental health issues killed 12 people at the Washington Naval Yard, a Blair County judge decided not to expunge an Altoona man’s mental health record, which would have allowed him to possess guns.

The 46-year-old man asked to have a mental health report stemming from head injuries suffered in a 2007 auto accident stricken from his record and to be permitted to purchase firearms.

The man claimed having guns was part of his “cultural heritage.”

Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan on Wednesday afternoon denied the man’s request, in part because of his criminal history.

Altoona attorney Phillip O. Roberston in May petitioned the judge to restore the man’s right to possess a firearm. The Mirror is withholding the man’s identity because of the personal nature of his mental health records.

The man said he was a lifelong hunter, liked to shoot targets and wanted a weapon for his own protection.

According to mental health records introduced by state police during a Tuesday hearing, the man had been a patient at UPMC Altoona after a 2007 accident in which he received a severe head injury.

The man at the time protested his hospitalization and threatened to climb out a window and jump from the roof to get away.

A physician concluded on his mental health report at the time that the man was “severely mentally disabled and in need of treatment.” He was involuntarily committed to the hospital’s mental health wing for three days.

Robertson presented a letter from an Altoona neurologist who concluded “the patient [now] exhibits no evidence whatsoever of suicidal or homicidal ideation or plan. Neurologically, he appears fully recovered from his head injury and intact.”

But the 2007 accident in which the man was charged with driving under the influence represented only part of the story.

Christopher Clark of the state police firearms division and the supervisor of the Pennsylvania Instant Check System said police were opposing Robertson’s request, not only because of the man’s his mental health history, but because of a lengthy criminal record.

The record included the 2007 drunken driving conviction, a 2005 conviction for simple assault that involved a gun, a second simple assault in 2008, convictions for harassment in 2006 and 2008 and a 2004 conviction for false imprisonment in California.

These were in addition to his nine convictions for driving during suspension and one conviction for careless driving.

Sullivan noted the police records also showed the court imposed a three-year protection-from-abuse order against the man that was requested by his mother.

Another witness was Trooper Timothy Strohmeyer of Hollidaysburg, who remembered the 2005 simple assault in which he removed a Glock pistol from the man.

Strohmeyer said he and another officer were dispatched to a gun complaint on June 25, 2005.

The man had accused a Hollidaysburg area couple of damaging one of his rental properties, and in the argument that ensued, the man had pulled the pistol, pointed it at the woman’s head and told her he was going to shoot her.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Robertson took offense when Attorney Carlton M. Smith, representing the state police, said expunging the man’s mental health record would give him “unfettered access” to guns.

Robertson said it would give him the right to possess a firearm just like any other citizen.

“Based upon the evidence adduced during the [Tuesday] hearing, as well as our assessment of credibility of the witnesses, we are satisfied the Pennsylvania State Police have demonstrated a pattern of assaultive behavior by the plaintiff, ” Sullivan stated in his six-page opinion.

He went on to say he was “concerned” about the way the man took the law into his own hands during the 2005 simple assault, pulling out a concealed Glock pistol and pointing it at the woman’s face.

Another point the judge made was that the man has never undergone a psychological or psychiatric evaluation.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.