Judge to consider whether Bluffton man is 'unfit' for guns

astice@islandpacket.comMay 23, 2013 

Anthony Valentino consults with his attorney, Eric Erickson, on Thursday before the start of his hearing before Judge Brooks Goldsmith at the Beaufort County Courthouse to determine whether he is competent to possess firearms.

JAY KARR — Jay Karr Buy Photo

Prosecutors want a judge to declare a Bluffton man unfit to own guns, but his lawyer says he isn't a threat to anyone.

After a hearing Thursday in the Beaufort County Courthouse, Circuit Judge Brooks Goldsmith said he will need more time to rule.

Bluffton police confiscated pistols, rifles, knives and ammunition from Anthony Valentino's home on Woods Bay Road in September after what they have called a standoff. Neighbors and relatives had called law enforcement out of concern that Valentino would harm himself and others, and police tried to reach him for more than 12 hours before he surrendered peacefully, officers testified.

But Valentino's attorney, Eric Erickson, objected to the terms "standoff" and "barricade" that police used throughout the hearing. He said Valentino didn't threaten anyone, never pointed a gun and hadn't been aware police tried to reach him for hours -- from the time his neighbor called 911 on the evening of Sept. 11 until he walked out of his house at about noon the next day.

The neighbor who first reported Valentino to the police, Paul Hauptly, also testified Thursday. On Sept. 11, Valentino went to Hauptly's home across the street. Valentino had recently lost his job at CareCore National, and his fiancee had left for another state with their 2-year-old son. Hauptly said Valentino told him he had taken about 30 Klonopin, a prescription drug for anxiety disorders.

"He never directly said he was going to hurt himself but he implied," Hauptly said as he was questioned by Deputy Solicitor Sean Thornton. Hauptly called police after Valentino left, and he and his wife feared enough for their safety to spend the night at a hotel, he said.

After that first call, police knocked on doors, windows and siding, and called Valentino's phone well into the next day -- to no avail, Bluffton police Capt. Angela McCall-Tanner said.

While trying to get Valentino to respond, authorities got in touch with his sister, brother-in-law and fiancee, who described a history of mental illness and violent episodes, authorities said. His fiancee told police Valentino had recently stopped taking medication prescribed for bipolar disorder, and she had left because she feared for her safety, McCall-Tanner testified.

At about 10:30 a.m. Sept. 12, Valentino's sister forwarded police an email that had been sent from Valentino's account. The email, full of misspellings, said he had taken a lethal dose of drugs, asked that his fiancee be killed and warned that there should be no police officers because he was heavily armed.

Police evacuated nearby homes and shut off access to the neighborhood. A detective worked on getting a search warrant, while McCall-Tanner sought an order from a probate court that would allow police to have Valentino mentally evaluated at Beaufort Memorial Hospital.

Soon after, Valentino came out of the house and was taken into custody. An emergency-room physician signed an order to have him involuntarily committed to Beaufort Memorial Hospital, where he remained in psychiatric treatment for the next five days.

Valentino said he didn't know police were trying to reach him until he prepared to take out the trash a little after noon and saw the SWAT team.

"I had no idea at the time what was happening," Valentino testified Thursday.

He acknowledged he was upset, but said he had only taken five or six Klonopin to try to calm down. He also said his fiancee hacked into his email account and sent the email that threatened suicide and warned police.

His lawyer presented an affidavit from Valentino's fiancee, testifying she hacked his email. She was not in court Thursday.

Valentino's mother, Linda Holmquist of Debary, Fla., said she has no doubt that his fiancee sent the email. She testified that McCall-Tanner called her and said, "We need something in writing to get in the house to save his life."

McCall-Tanner denied that account.

"I have never spoken to (Holmquist)," McCall-Tanner said. "She is completely making that up."

Dr. Mary Hill, the medical director of Beaufort Memorial Hospital's mental health unit, discharged Valentino with the recommendation that he continue treatment for bipolar disorder and attention deficit disorder, she testified. She also said she prescribed him several medications, including antidepressants and lithium.

The defense gave the judge a letter from Dr. Herndon P. Harding Jr., a Florida psychiatrist, that said Valentino was not a threat to himself or others, and he may be misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. Harding, who Valentino said had been treating him for five or six years before he moved to Bluffton in 2012, also was not in court Thursday.

By the end of the hearing, Goldsmith said he needed more time to review the 200 to 300 pages of evidence submitted by the prosecution and defense.

Meanwhile, Valentino's 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 -- will remain in the hands of the Bluffton Police Department, the judge said.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/IPBG_Allison.

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