Whitehall police have learned from a criminal incident involving a school board member and will not repeat the mistake, Whitehall Mayor Kim Maggard told members of Whitehall City Council on March 5.
Maggard's comments followed prepared comments from resident Gerald Dixon regarding how Whitehall police handled an incident Aug. 7 at John Bishop Park, where then Whitehall school board member Brandon Howard was carrying a concealed firearm.
Howard pleaded guilty Feb. 4 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon. He had been charged with a fourth-degree felony, but prosecutors said because police did not instantly confiscate the gun, it could not be unequivocally proven that the gun Howard had surrendered to police two days later was the same firearm Howard was carrying during the Aug. 7 National Night Out, an annual community event at which thousands were gathered.
Howard told police he had a permit to carry the gun, so police allowed another individual to take it from the scene Aug. 7. Howard was ordered to produce the permit the following day, but when he did not, police went to his residence and confiscated a firearm. A grand jury returned a felony indictment against Howard, who pleaded not guilty, but a plea bargain was reached Feb. 4.
Howard resigned from the school board Feb. 28.
Maggard acknowledged a mistake had been made, but that the city learned from it.
Police Chief Richard Zitzke was at the meeting but did not respond to the exchange between Dixon and Maggard.
"This is a lesson well-learned, and I've talked with (Zitzke) about this incident and the consequences it has brought. It should not have happened last time; it will not happen again," Maggard said.
Maggard said although police were aware Howard was employed as a security guard, they should have investigated Howard's claim in the same manner as any other citizen "to avoid any appearance of favoritism."
Maggard said she understood the action police had taken Aug. 7, owing to their knowledge of Howard's employment at the time, and also to his family's commitment to the city.
Howard's father is the city treasurer and a former council president. His mother is a former school board member who also resigned Feb. 28.
"There was no reason to believe (Howard) did not have a concealed-carry permit. Unfortunately, this was not the case," Maggard said. "I have full confidence in my police chief this will not happen again."
Maggard concluded her comments with a desire to put the issue in the past.
"We cannot dwell on negativity as it will infiltrate and poison all that is good in Whitehall," she said. "It is imperative we keep our eyes on our vision to lead Whitehall and its citizens to a better future."
Prior to her remarks, Dixon criticized the manner in which police handled the case, saying Howard "was served justice given the ultimate evidence the prosecution had to work with" but perhaps not the justice he would have received if police had handled the case properly.
"Every poor soul that shoplifts, ... is dragged before a magistrate, but a loaded weapon, concealed without a permit, capable of great harm at a heavily attended public event, is allowed to leave their grasp," Dixon said.
He said that police allowed another person to leave the scene with the gun Aug. 7 was "the larger crime to this community" and a "danger to the law, justice and the citizens' comfort, knowing that their safety and welfare is protected only so far as its proximity to familial relations."
During council polling at the conclusion of the meeting, several members thanked Dixon and Maggard for their comments.