Attorney for Bluffton man declared unfit to possess weapons gets man's rifles back

sbowman@islandpacket.comAugust 27, 2013 

A former Bluffton resident who in June was declared unfit to possess handguns had firearms reclaimed by his attorney last week.

On Aug. 19, Anthony Valentino's attorney, Eric Erickson, picked up all of Valentino's weapons from the Bluffton Police Department -- including his handguns, two rifles and a shotgun.

A circuit court judge ruled in June that police should return most of Valentino's weapons to him because the declaration that he is unfit to possess firearms applies only to handguns.

The court allowed Valentino to designate someone to hold his three handguns until he was deemed fit; he picked Erickson.

Erickson said he returned the other weapons to one of Valentino's family members on Friday. Valentino has moved out of state, Erickson said, and the family member he gave the weapons to lives in a different state than his client.

"It's kind of a partial victory for both sides," Erickson said. "(Valentino) is unhappy he was ruled unfit, but he's happy he gets another shot at it in a year and that he finally has his weapons back, and ammunition."

Circuit Court Judge Brooks Goldsmith ruled in June that Valentino should get most of his guns back. The 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office filed an appeal but dropped it after consulting with the state Attorney General's Office and determining the appeal would not likely be successful.

"The judge agreed with us (that his weapons shouldn't be returned) but found the statute was limited," 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said Tuesday.

Erickson said Valentino will have another hearing in May 2014 to see if he is deemed fit to regain possession of his handguns.

Valentino was declared unfit to possess firearms after Bluffton police locked down his neighborhood in September, following concerns about his mental state from neighbors and his fiancee. A SWAT team surrounded his Woods Bay Road home, and he was taken to the hospital after emerging to take the trash out. Valentino has said he was unaware the team was outside his house for 12 hours.

Police confiscated his Browning 12-gauge shotgun, a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle, a Ruger .22-caliber rifle and three handguns. They also took an air rifle, knives and several boxes of ammunition.

Erickson said that on Aug. 15, he asked Goldsmith to hold the Town of Bluffton in contempt for its two-month delay in returning the weapons, following the judge's June 13 order.

Valentino seeks damages from the town for $100 per item, per day, Erickson said. Twenty items appeared on the Bluffton Police Department's itemized list of weapons handed over to Erickson on Aug. 19, so that would total more than $130,000.

Capt. Angela McCall-Tanner of the Bluffton Police Department said she understands the judge's ruling but is disappointed with the outcome.

"From a law enforcement standpoint, there is a concern about someone with his issues possessing this amount of firepower," she said. "It's still a concern, but we made every effort we know how to make to ensure everyone's safety."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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