A judge's ruling to allow a former Bluffton resident to reclaim rifles and a shotgun -- despite a declaration that he is unfit to possess handguns -- is on hold after the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office appealed the decision.
Circuit Court Judge Brooks Goldsmith ruled in June that under state law, police should return two rifles and a shotgun to Anthony Valentino because a declaration that he is unfit to possess firearms applies only to handguns.
However, Deputy Solicitor Sean Thornton filed an appeal of Goldsmith's ruling July 12, according to Valentino's attorney, Eric Erickson.
Erickson said he was preparing briefs and motions to submit to the S.C. Court of Appeals, but a decision could be more than a year away. Since the appeal has no timetable, Erickson said he plans to file a motion to allow Valentino to recover his guns while the process continues.
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Valentino was initially declared unfit to possess firearms after concerns about his mental state by neighbors and his fiancee led Bluffton police to lock down his neighborhood last September.
A SWAT team surrounded his home after a neighbor reported Valentino had taken an excessive amount of Klonopin, a prescription drug for anxiety disorders, and implied he was going to hurt himself.
Police tried to reach Valentino for 12 hours during the incident, but he testified during a hearing in May he had no idea police were outside his home on Woods Bay Road until he took his garbage out at about noon Sept. 12, when he was arrested.
Valentino had lost his job, and his fiancee had taken their 2-year-old son with her to Maine just before the incident.
Police took six guns from Valentino's house. Under Goldsmith's ruling, Valentino can retrieve his 12-gauge Browning shotgun, a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle and a .22-caliber Ruger rifle, along with some knives, an air rifle and ammunition.
Three handguns he owns also are still in police possession. The court allows Valentino to designate someone to hold those handguns -- he picked Erickson -- until he is deemed fit. However, that transfer also is on hold because of the appeal.
Erickson said he planned to ask a judge to remove Valentino's status of unfit after a year.
Valentino has moved from Bluffton to an undisclosed state after the incident. His status in South Carolina may soon be reported as part of background checks nationwide. A new state law requires the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division to report to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System anyone declared by a court to be unfit to possess handguns.
Part of the new law, which took effect Aug. 1, requires SLED to report all residents declared unfit during the past 10 years. Attempts to reach SLED for comment about the reporting process were unsuccessful.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.