Solicitor seeks to prevent Bluffton man from getting weapons back

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comNovember 27, 2012 

Prosecutors have asked a Beaufort County judge to deny a Bluffton man's request to have weapons and ammunition returned to him after they were seized during an hours-long standoff two months ago.

14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone filed a motion Oct. 22 asking the court to declare Anthony Valentino, 35, unfit to carry or posses a firearm because of a mental illness. He also asked that police be allowed to destroy or dispose of the seized weapons.

A hearing has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Dec. 17 at the Beaufort County Courthouse.

Valentino filed a lawsuit Nov. 8 in U.S. District Court against the town of Bluffton and Police Chief Joey Reynolds , alleging violations of his constitutional rights to due process and gun ownership.

Officers removed several weapons and ammunition from his Woods Bay Road home Sept. 12 after he threatened to harm himself and others, according to police. That prompted law enforcement to close off the Parkside subdivision and evacuate nearby houses.

Neighbors told officers that an apparently intoxicated Valentino came to their home Sept. 11 and said he planned to harm himself, the mother of his child and his dog, according to a police report.

They said Valentino told them he was suffering from stress from losing his job, medication withdrawal and the sudden departure that morning of his girlfriend, who took their young son with her to Maine, according to the report.

Valentino also said that if any police knocked on his door "all hell was going to break loose, and he was going to take a couple of people with him," according to the police report.

Police say he also sent an email to his sister, a copy of which is included in Stone's motion. In the email, Valentino says he wants his girlfriend to suffer and then be killed. He also threatens to take a lethal dose of medication, says he is heavily armed and there should be no police officers.

Valentino, though, was never charged with a crime after surrendering peacefully to officers. As such, his lawsuit alleges, authorities should return his weapons -- three Glock pistols, a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle with scope, an heirloom shotgun, a Ruger .308 rifle with scope, a Ruger .22-caliber rifle with scope, an air rifle and knives.

He also says the warrant that officers used to search his home was signed by municipal court clerk Atiya Johnson but should have been signed by a judge. His attorney, Eric Erickson of Beaufort, says that constitutes invasion of privacy and unreasonable search and seizure.

Valentino also alleges medical evaluations indicate he does not suffer suicidal or homicidal tendencies that would prevent him from getting the weapons back.

He was detained Sept. 12 by police under a Probate Court order and examined at Beaufort Memorial Hospital by a doctor who ordered involuntary emergency hospitalization after determining Valentino "posed a substantial risk of physical harm to himself and others," according to hospital records filed with Stone's motion.

Dr. Jarrod Wright said Valentino "displayed periods of agitation and violent, destructive behavior," according to court records.

Days later, hospital examiners determined Valentino's mental illness no longer required involuntary treatment but recommended he continue treatment with his psychiatrist in Florida, Dr. Herndon P. Harding Jr. , according to court records. Valentino was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and given prescriptions for lithium and Cymbalta, the records show.

Valentino, though, in his lawsuit provides a letter from Harding, which says "at his last examination on Oct. 4, 2012, he showed no signs of immediate risk to himself or others."

Reynolds and town manager Anthony Barrett declined to comment on the lawsuit, both saying it is against town policy to speak on legal or personnel matters.

Town attorney Terry Finger said Reynolds and the police department "followed their protocol correctly, and it's now in the hands of the Solicitor's Office."

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