A Springfield man filed a complaint Friday against the Manassas Police Department, saying that an officer’s ignorance of Virginia’s open-carry weapons laws created an unnecessary and tense situation for him and six friends at a city pizza restaurant.
On Jan. 13, Russ Troxel said he and six other members of a Second Amendment rights Web site forum Opencarry.org met at Tony’s New York Pizza for dinner.
According to Troxel, they walked in with their guns holstered at their sides and ordered their food.
Virginia is known as an open-carry state. While carrying a concealed weapon requires a court-issued permit, no permit is required to carry a gun in the open.
Around 8:11 p.m., a police officer responded to a call at the restaurant from an unnamed diner who reported that the men were not causing any trouble but their weapons made him uncomfortable.
Troxel said the man had approached two of his friends while they were ordering their food and called them “yahoos” and “dorks.”
About 30 minutes later a Manassas police officer arrived and, Troxel said, “loudly and antagonistically” asked if the men were police officers and, after learning that none were, demanded to see their IDs.
Within nine minutes, six other officers came to the Mathis Avenue restaurant, according to the Manassas police department’s call information log.
The men tried to explain that because Tony’s serves alcohol they were required by law to openly carry their firearms, Troxel said, but the first responding officer refused to listen and eventually became hostile.
One of the officers helped to defuse the situation, Troxel said in a telephone interview Tuesday, but several others overstepped their authority and were unnecessarily rude in doing so.
“The actions and attitudes [of the officers] is intolerable in a free nation,” Russ Troxel said in the complaint.
Police Chief John J. Skinner said he would like to comment publicly but can’t because the complaint is part of an internal investigation. He would not release the names of the officers.
According to the department’s call information log, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, Officer Chad Hyland was the first to respond, followed by Officers Joshua Thompson, Rickey Clodfelter, Sean Ellis, Marc Hittle, Tina Pannell and Carrie Sutton.
Troxel also accuses police of “suggesting or implying” something to the owner of Tony’s to get him to ask Troxel and his friends to leave. The men hadn’t been confronted about the weapons by any of the restaurant staff in the 45 minutes that they had been sitting there until after police arrived, he said.
Joe D’Agostino, manager of Tony’s, said that the restaurant does not have a policy on openly carrying weapons.
But because they had received several complaints from regular customers, he and the owner told the men they would have to put their guns in their vehicles or leave, D’Agostino said.
Officers used derogatory terms to describe the men and their group in several e-mails and messages sent within the department following the incident, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Mike Stollenwerk, one of the founders of Open carry.org.
Stollenwerk was not at the restaurant at the time of the incident.
In an e-mail Clodfelter sent five of the other officers the day after the incident, he copied the state code that prohibits patrons from carrying concealed weapons in any place that serves alcohol and concludes that they were legally allowed to carry their guns openly that night.
In the same e-mail, Clodfelter also wrote: “My guess is the over-compensating ass clowns at Tony’s were hyper-aware of all this, and that’s why they started crying like little babies when their event got spoiled by the whole ‘lets get the owner to tell them to get the f– out’ thing.”
A lieutenant in the department e-mailed other police departments in the state on Jan. 17 asking if similar incidents had happened in their jurisdictions, adding that his opinion “is that the group is probing local [police departments] in order to see how they will react” to those type of calls.
An hour later a captain of the Fredericksburg Police Department replied that a group of men had “attempted the same type of act” in the Fredericksburg area and that they were “lawsuit shopping.”
Troxel said the group chose Tony’s restaurant for its central location.
“We weren’t lawsuit shopping,” he said, adding that he also denies that the group was testing the department’s knowledge of open-carry laws.
Use of vulgar or profane language is a violation of the department’s computer and electronic messaging policy, Skinner said.
He began a supervisory review of the incident in early February after receiving the Freedom of Information Act request two weeks earlier. He said it could take up to 30 days to get the findings of the department’s internal investigation.