Politics & Government

August 13, 2014

Camden man charged amid turmoil over gun law in Washington, DC

A federal judge overturned it, then reinstated it temporarily. The metro police chief flip-flopped on whether her officers should enforce it. The local prosecutors have thrown up their hands while waiting for the legal dust to clear.

A federal judge overturned it, then reinstated it temporarily. The metro police chief flip-flopped on whether her officers should enforce it. The local prosecutors have thrown up their hands while waiting for the legal dust to clear.

And caught up in these legal gyrations over Washington D.C.’s handgun ban is the N.C. State University trustee who was charged with violating the law three days before it was struck down.

And six days before it was put back in place. Kind of.

Ronald W. Prestage, 59, head of a South Carolina subsidiary of the Clinton-based pork and poultry producer Prestage Farms, was arrested by U.S. Capitol police Aug. 23 after allegedly carrying a concealed 9-millimeter handgun into a congressional office building while on a lobbying visit.

On Wednesday, a District of Columbia superior court judge granted prosecutors a continuance in the case for a month while they negotiate with Prestage’s attorney.

Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in the district, said that since the ban was ruled unconstitutional Aug. 26, his office had been seeking continuances in some cases where people have been charged under the law.

“All we’ve been saying is that we’re studying the recent court opinion and looking at it case by case,” he said.

If tried on the original charge, a lone count of possessing a gun outside a home or office, Prestage faces up to five years in prison and a fine of as much as $5,000.

Others charged under the D.C. law are also waiting their turns in front of a judge, but Miller said that to his knowledge all of the others were arrested elsewhere in the city, and not on congressional property.

Miller declined to discuss details of Prestage’s case, but noted that there was another law under which people carrying guns on Capitol property could be charged.

Prestage’s attorney, Robert J. Spagnoletti, didn’t return a call seeking comment Wednesday after the hearing. Spagnoletti is a former president of the District of Columbia Bar and former Attorney General for the District of Columbia. A Prestage spokeswoman declined to comment.

Whatever the details of the negotiations in Prestage’s case, the prosecutors lost some leverage when senior U.S. District Court Judge Frederick Sculling Jr. ruled that the ban was unconstitutional.

Two days later, Metro Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier ordered her officers to stop enforcing the ban. The same day, Sculling stayed his own order for 90 days while District of Columbia officials decide whether to appeal his decision or try to craft a law that passes muster.

Then, that afternoon Lanier rescinded her earlier order and told police to begin enforcing the law again, citing Sculling’s stay.

Prestage is president-elect of the National Pork Producers Council and joined the NCSU Board of Trustees last year.

On the day of his arrest, Prestage was part of a group scheduled to meet with various lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, whose office is in the Cannon House Office Building, where Prestage was arrested. Turkey and agriculture issues were on the agenda, Duncan spokesman Allen Klump said in an interview last month.

Prestage’s LC9 semi-automatic was in an ankle holster tucked in his briefcase, and showed up during a routine screening at a building entrance. He told Capital Police that he held a permit in South Carolina for the gun, which is a palm-sized model designed for easy concealment.

Under the instructions that the metro police chief issued Aug. 28, someone holding a permit from elsewhere in the country would not have been arrested for carrying a handgun. At least not for the single day her edict was in place.

In a similar legal limbo is a Congressional staffer, Ryan Shucard, who was arrested at the same building July 18, also after trying to bring in a handgun. His case also was continued recently, and his attorney told CQ Roll Call that he was trying to use the ruling against the ban to get charges against Shucard dropped.

In recent years, increased security in airports and many U.S. public buildings and an explosion in the popularity of guns has resulted in many gun owners being arrested after forgetting weapons they had packed away.

Prestage hasn’t yet offered a public explanation for trying to carry the gun into the Congressional building. Shucard told CQ Roll Call simply that he had made a mistake.

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