July 12th 2013

Man protests felony gun arrest, had permit


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Jeremy Preston could lose his job after being charged
with illegally carrying a concealed weapon. His carry permit
from the state of Tennessee was found to be invalid.

By Cris Barrish, The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal. July 7th 2013
Article Source

Jeremy Preston

MIDDLETOWN, Del. – When police here pulled over engineer Jeremy Preston for speeding last month, he volunteered that his glove compartment held a Glock handgun.

Preston, 33, immediately showed the officer his Tennessee permit to carry the .40-caliber Glock and let the officer retrieve the loaded weapon. He obtained the permit last year while living in Tennessee.

Preston, who works for a Wilmington, Del., company that services nuclear power plants, said he wasn't worried. He had been stopped by an officer in Delaware months earlier, showed him the gun and the permit, and was allowed to drive off with the Glock.

This stop ended differently, with what Preston calls an "outlandish arrest." He now faces a felony charge of illegally carrying a concealed deadly weapon and is unable to set foot inside the Peach Bottom nuclear plant in York County, Pa.

Worried about his job and career as well as the ramifications of a conviction whose maximum penalty is eight years behind bars, Preston contacted The News Journal last week to complain about his arrest.

Though prison time would be unlikely for Preston, who has no criminal record in Delaware and said he had never been arrested previously, he said the arrest has cost him money in legal fees and jeopardized his $100,000-plus-a-year job.

He's prohibited from entering the nuclear power plant and fears getting fired and having his career ruined.

"It's devastating for me," Preston said. "This is my career. I've spent a long time establishing a reputation as hardworking engineer. And now I get falsely arrested with these bogus charges, and it's pretty serious."

"Some of the damage has been done," Preston said, adding that his employers "are looking at me funny. They don't have time for this. They don't want the hassle. I can't work at a nuclear plant with a felony."

While police reports show that Preston's Tennessee permit to carry a concealed weapon expired when he obtained a Delaware driver's license in December, he contends he never knew that would or did happen. Nor did Tennessee officials ever inform him his permit had been canceled.

Preston also said he thought he was protected by a "reciprocity" law between the two states that recognize each other's concealed handgun carry permits. He said he even checked Attorney General Beau Biden's website to review Delaware's policy on reciprocity and saw nothing that indicated his Tennessee permit was invalid if he got a Delaware license.

The Attorney General's Office website says someone with a permit in one of the 18 states with which Delaware has reciprocity agreements can carry a concealed weapon "while visiting or traveling through Delaware." However, it also says out-of-state permit holders "are responsible for knowing and obeying all of Delaware's laws and regulations."

While Middletown police said they charged Preston based on a recommendation from Biden's office, state Prosecutor Kathleen M. Jennings said Preston is welcome to visit her office Monday and bring paperwork that he thinks would exonerate him. Preston is due in court for a preliminary hearing Tuesday.

"No one wants to prosecute him for a mistake, for some stupid stuff," Jennings said. "I think we'll just clear it up."

Felony charge

Preston's problems began about 1:30 a.m. June 16, court records show, when an officer pulled him over for speeding.

Preston said he spent the evening watching ultimate fighting matches on television at the Jager House Pub north of Middletown. He said he "paid for my wings and Sprite" shortly after 1 a.m. and drove toward his town house in Middletown.

Court records show that Preston gave the officer his Delaware license. When the officer asked for his registration and insurance, Preston told him "he had a handgun in the glove box," his arrest affidavit says.

The officer asked if had a permit to carry the gun and Preston said yes, handing him the Tennessee permit with his photo, name, date of birth and Chattanooga address.

Though Preston said he handed the officer the weapon, court records say the officer removed it. The Glock was loaded, with 12 "hollow-point 40-caliber bullets" in the 13-round magazine but none in the chamber, the affidavit says.

The officer took the gun back to his vehicle. The officer's records check revealed Preston had surrendered his Tennessee driver's license when he obtained his Delaware license Dec. 13, the affidavit said.

He then contacted Chattanooga police to verify the gun permit but was told it "attached to a person's driver's license, and if a person is now licensed in another state, the Tennessee handgun carry permit is no longer valid."

The officer kept the gun and said he had to check with the Attorney General's Office to see if criminal charges were warranted, Preston said.

Preston drove home, unworried.

"I thought one of two things would happen," he said. "They would say I interpreted the law exactly right or tell me, 'No, it's not quite right and you have to apply for a Delaware handgun permit if you plan on staying in Delaware.' "

The day after the traffic stop, the Attorney General's Office told police that reciprocity no longer applied because Preston was a Delaware resident, the affidavit says. The officer was instructed to get an arrest warrant for Preston on felony charges.

Preston was at his desk at the nuclear plant when the officer called to tell him charges were being filed. Stunned, Preston said he immediately informed his boss, surrendered his work badge and exited the plant.

"In a million years I never thought I'd be arrested, especially when I've tried to make sure I stayed within the boundaries of the law," he said.

Though Jennings indicated she is leaning toward dropping the case, Biden spokesman Jason Miller defended the decision to recommend charges.

Preston was arrested as Delaware authorities, reeling from an epidemic of street shootings in Wilmington and rampant violence up and down Delaware, are cracking down on gun crimes and criminals who possess firearms.

"There was a good-faith basis for the police to make an arrest in this case," Miller said in a written statement.

"As with every gun case, following an arrest prosecutors conduct a thorough review of all the evidence and carefully consider the facts and circumstances in order to reach the most appropriate resolution in the interest of justice."

'Better guidance'

Preston, who grew up in the South, said he has owned guns since his father taught him to fire a shotgun as a teenager.

He bought the Glock early in 2012 while living in Tennessee, where he still has a condominium. At the time he was working at a nuclear plant in Alabama.

Preston said he got the carry permit because he drives nice cars and fears getting carjacked or robbed. When he got transferred to Peach Bottom in spring 2012, Preston returned to his Middletown home, which he had been renting but was vacant.

At that point he checked the attorney general's website and saw information about Delaware reciprocity agreement with Tennessee.

Preston said he pays taxes in both Delaware and Tennessee, but lists Tennessee as his home on his federal tax forms and considers it his permanent residence.

In December, though, he bought a new car and wanted to register it in Delaware rather than drive to Tennessee. After his insurer was told he needed a Delaware driver's license to register the car, he obtained one Dec. 13.

At that point, Preston said, he again checked the attorney general's website and saw nothing to indicate his Tennessee permit might be invalid. He said he also asked a police officer at a YMCA where he works out if he needed to get a Delaware permit but was told it was not necessary.

Nor did two traffic stops – one in New Castle County and the other in Philadelphia – cause him to think otherwise. Both times, Preston said he showed the officers his gun and permit and was allowed to drive off with the weapon.

He acknowledges he should have called Biden's office to ask whether he needed to get a Delaware permit but is urging the attorney general to make the rules clearer on his Web page.

"Give people the right guidance and please change the writeup on the website so people like myself might not try to interpret it themselves and face a gun charge and possible prison," Preston said.

Regardless of how the court case ends, Preston said he won't seek a permit in Delaware and might give or sell the gun to a relative. He doesn't even care if Delaware authorities keep the gun, as long as they drop the charge.

"Think about it," he said. "A $100,000 job versus a $600 gun? That's a no-brainer."

Refer to the "Sandy Hook Index" for an archive collection of valuable material we have shown since the events at the Newtown Elementary School.

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