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Federal judge punts vet's handgun lawsuit

Dec. 28, 2012 - 06:48PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 28, 2012 - 06:48PM  |  
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. A federal judge is dismissing a lawsuit in which a Florida man claimed Lincoln County sheriff's deputies violated his Second Amendment rights by arresting him for carrying a handgun.

Judge Scott Skavdahl of Casper announced Dec. 19 that he will grant a request from Lincoln County and the state of Wyoming to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Robert Pierson, of Pensacola, Fla.

Pierson had been riding his Harley-Davidson through Lincoln County with a pistol on his belt in August 2011. A U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot who has served two combat tours in Afghanistan, he has said he was taking a cross-country trip that brought him through Wyoming.

Deputies stopped Pierson near Alpine after another motorist complained that a motorcyclist matching his description had been driving recklessly.

Pierson claims in the lawsuit filed this year that Deputies Corry Bassett and Rob Andazola handcuffed him for 45 minutes while questioning him about his gun. Although Pierson was handcuffed, the deputies didn't disarm him and he wasn't cited.

In a sworn statement filed in court this fall, Bassett told Pierson's attorney, Gary Ferguson, that he detained Pierson because Pierson wouldn't tell him initially whether he had a gun.

Pierson, who recorded much of his interaction with Bassett and Andazola, told Bassett only that he didn't consent to any searches.

Pierson stated that the lawmen's safety wasn't his concern, and that their safety didn't trump his constitutional rights. He later posted the recording of his encounter on YouTube, where it has been viewed more than 100,000 times.

Bassett gave a sworn statement to lawyers in the case this fall that he offered to release Pierson if he allowed Andazola to draw his weapon and cover Pierson, ready to shoot him if he made any sudden moves. Pierson declined the offer and was released after a supervisor from the Lincoln County sheriff's office arrived.

Ferguson said Friday he will review Skavdahl's written dismissal order once it's filed and intends to appeal. Ferguson said earlier court cases have established that police may detain an armed man who hasn't committed a crime only if he's dangerous.

"But he wasn't dangerous," Ferguson said of Pierson. "And you can clearly show that from the recording that he made. You can see that he wasn't dangerous. How do you let officers off when they're illegally and unconstitutionally threatening lethal force?"

Attempts to reach lawyers for Lincoln County and the state of Wyoming were unsuccessful Friday.

Sheriff Shane Johnson said Friday it's been frustrating to have the lawsuit pending and to be under orders from his attorneys not to comment. He said he received emails from people around the country who had seen Pierson's YouTube posting that were critical of his deputies and department.

"This was never about a gun," Johnson said. "There is no organization that's more pro-Second Amendment than this organization. It was frustrating to have this turned into like this was anti-gun."

Johnson said Pierson didn't stop immediately when the deputy turned on his emergency lights to pull him over. He said the deputy had a heightened state of awareness after finding that Pierson was armed and hearing him say that the deputy's safety wasn't his concern.

"We expect everybody in Wyoming to have a firearm, obviously. We're aware of that," Johnson said. "We don't pull over people because we see firearms, which is what this was made out to be: we saw somebody carrying a firearm so we decided to stop him. That's absolutely inaccurate."

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