Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Fletcher's Follies, Part 4

Copyright 2008 Douglas J. Hester. This article may be freely copied, distributed and quoted, provided attribution is given to the author.

Part 4.

Were reasons justifying the denial of carry permits used wrongly and/or falsified, and was data deliberately misreported to the state by Sheriff Fletcher’s office in order to hide the county’s actual denial rate?

Looking further into the details in order to formulate a reason for Sheriff Fletcher’s high number of denials revealed some strange disconnects in the numbers that were submitted by Ramsey County to the BCA for inclusion in the 2007 Permit to Carry Report. Even though the summary page lists 87 denied permit applications for Ramsey County in 2007, under the subsection in the BCA report entitled “Reasons Report”, which breaks down the reasons for the denials into categories, Fletcher reports denying a whopping 146 applications due to the applicant being a “Danger to Self or Others.” This seems to be the catchall category used when a specifically legislated reason for denying the permit isn’t present, such as criminal convictions, violation of restraining orders, those prohibited by Federal law from owning a firearm, and other legitimate categories. It also appears to be the category that Sheriff Fletcher’s employees use to list the denials of permit applications based on incorrect applications of the law, and in some cases denials seemingly consisting solely of neighborhood interviews of friends and acquaintances, interviews that in at least one recent case have been proven in court to have had no evidence that they were ever done. Details of those cases will be discussed shortly. Parenthetically, Fletcher also reports denying an additional 19 applicants their permit for “Other Reasons” that are not specified, and thus have no specific recorded explanation for issuing a denial.

Continuing on, in the section of the report entitled “Denials Explanation Report”, devoted to listing each and every “Danger to Self or Others” case and whether or not that case was appealed to a judge, there are no less than 155 separate cases listed, even more than the aforementioned 146. Evidently a lot more than the total of 87 applicants listed on the summary page were denied permits to carry. If we assume that 155 is the accurate number of denials for “Danger to Self or Others”, a reasonable conclusion since that corresponds to the number of specific cases listed in detail, then Sheriff Fletcher actually denied 213 permits in 2007, giving him an astonishing denial rate of 33.1%, assuming all other categories of denials are tallied correctly.

Checking the years 2006 and 2005 for similar inconsistencies and to rule out clerical errors, the numbers for Ramsey County seem to total up incorrectly in those reports as well. In 2006, the summary page lists 79 denials for Ramsey County due to “Danger to Self or Others”, but there are 115 denials for that category in the Reasons Report section and 120 denials in the Denials Explanation Report. In 2005, the summary page lists 71 permit denials due to “Danger to Self or Others”, but Ramsey County then claims 95 denials in the Reasons Report Section and 105 denials in the Denials Explanation Report for the very same reason. Putting the data for all three years into chart form, we come up with the following results (see Figure 2).

As one can plainly see, the graphed data seems far too similar from year to year to be the result of misentered data or random discrepancies. It appears that someone in the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office may be deliberately “fudging” the numbers in order to make their denial rate appear to be (relatively) more in line with the other counties, as the actual rate is mind-bendingly high and would be immediately noticed and questioned. It would seem that there is a “smoking gun” here (pun intended).

Performing the same calculations that were used for the 2007 data, Sheriff Fletcher’s actual denial rates for 2005 and 2006 are 20.0% and 25.7%, respectively. These cumulative denial rates are so far outside the norm for any other county as to stretch the limits of believability. The only explanation seems to be that Sheriff Fletcher is denying applicants based on some other standard known only to him, a standard which is apparently much higher than the legislated one that 86 other sheriffs in Minnesota seem to be using with great success.

At least one part of that standard appears to be the previously mentioned neighborhood interviews performed by the deputy charged with processing the applications. In at least some cases, these interviews that apparently carry such great weight in Fletcher’s decision to deny applicants their permit seem to have had no factual basis, at least in a courtroom setting. On May 21, 2008, criminal defense attorney Marc Berris successfully appealed a denial of the carry permit application of a client in Ramsey County District Court. While undergoing cross-examination by Berris, Deputy David Rossman, who heads the permit department and who was ostensibly trying to prove the county’s case, admitted under oath that he couldn’t recall the names of the people he interviewed, the times or places the interviews were supposedly conducted, or even the nature of the questions that were asked. Rossman also failed to produce any written records which supported his assertion that the interviews took place. After the county attorney finished their presentation, Berris made a motion for the judge to grant a directed judgment, without his calling a single witness. The judge agreed, and ordered the permit issued immediately. Berris has also filed a motion to be compensated by the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, because the statute requires the county to pay the applicant’s fees if an appeal is successful.

Mr. Berris isn’t the only attorney to have run into this sort of games-playing on the part of the sheriff’s office, either. As Berris states,

“I have heard from another attorney that just last week he litigated a case where, after providing one reason for the denial, the County came to the hearing claiming a completely different -- yet equally unsound -- basis for the denial. In that case it appears that the deputy responsible for investigating pistol carry permit applications first denied the application, and then just two days prior to the hearing challenging the denial (and months after the original denial) finally completed some sort of an actual background investigation. It seems that the policy of the Sheriff is to deny applications first, and then go looking for some sort of an explanation if and only if the applicant actually goes to the time and expense of challenging the denial in court. This 'deny first and investigation second' attitude is a flagrant nose-thumbing to the intent of the legislature in passing the Minnesota Citizens' Personal Protection Act. Apparently Sheriff Fletcher believes he can follow only the laws he chooses despite being sworn to uphold all laws.”

In addition to the facts brought to light by attorneys such as Berris, Andrew Rothman, a carry permit instructor and the Executive Director of MADFI, an organization that trains and certifies instructors, reports that one of his students received a letter, signed by Deputy Rossman, denying them a carry permit for being a “Danger to Self or Others” because of a misdemeanor DUI conviction. This would seem to be a gross misuse of the category, as such a conviction, regardless of how one feels about impaired driving, is not a disqualifier for a carry permit, nor is it by any means a predictor of someone’s being an imminent threat to society. Rothman has also had two of his students receive letters from Rossman denying their permit applications because of arrests for domestic violence, with no convictions or even criminal complaints filed in either case (See below for an example).

Deputy Rossman actually lists “arrest for domestic violence” as the reason for the permit denials, and he then goes on to prove his ignorance of the difference between the terms "arrest" and "conviction" by helpfully explaining that Federal law bars those convicted of domestic assault crimes from even possessing firearms, even though this fact obviously does not apply in these instances. This, as in the DUI denial, would seem to be a deliberate misinterpretation of the law by Deputy Rossman, in that all three students were never convicted of a crime that would disqualify them for a permit under state law. These applicants appear to be perfect examples of the citizens who regularly have their permit denials reversed by judges on appeal, which means that Ramsey County burns thousands of taxpayer dollars in legal fees for denials that should have never been made in the first place, as they had no chance of holding up in court.

When one combines the factors of the wasteful cost to taxpayers of using so many employee hours to process so few permits, the additional unnecessary costs of having to pony up attorneys fees for wrongly denied applicants, the embarrassing performance of Deputy Rossman when attempting under oath to justify his denials of applicants’ permits for being a “danger to self and others” as well as his blanket denials of obviously qualified applicants, and the murky (to put it kindly) reporting of applicant denials to the BCA, it’s crystal clear that, at least in the Sheriff’s office, there’s something rotten in Ramsey. After all, isn’t this similar to the type of misreporting that delivered lengthy prison sentences to the officers of Enron, WorldCom and Tyco?

The residents of Ramsey County should call on Sheriff Fletcher to immediately make an open and honest accounting of his policies to make sure that they are within the standards set by state law, and to disclose an accurate accounting of the monies that have been apparently used to inappropriately block law-abiding citizens from obtaining their handgun carry permits.


informer said...

Great work Doug. Keep digging there's much, much more going on in that department.

Bike Bubba said...

Great work. If what you say is true and consistent, I would dare suggest that the proper remedy would not be a mere order to process applications properly, but a removal of the sheriff for gross dereliction of duty. Sometimes I think we're too "nice" to those who clearly aren't playing by the rules.

Nightwhisper said...

From Nightwhisper: I applied today 07/07/08, being an ex-military policeman, non-commissioned officer in the military, honorable discharge, home owner in same house for nearly 18 years, no criminal convictions, pretty stable employment, decent credit history, I wonder if I will get my permit. I did not even know of the history of the high denials of Ramsey county until today. Stay tuned as I will keep you informed every step of the way. (I wonder if its legal to talk to neighbors as that is hear-say and I read its supposed to be background checks done electronically). FYI: My neighbors like me and I like them so It wont be a problem for me though. Signed Nightwhisper.

Nightwhisper said...

Nightwhisper says: What if I get my permit? Then it might not be as bad as we think. Please check this blog towards the end of July or the beginning of Aug as that will be the 30 day time limit.

Anonymous said...

Seems Barney Fife and Rosco P Rossman found their own "gunshow loophole" of sorts.

They aren't the only people using this same tactic. Anoka does the same.

Nightwhisper said...

Nightwhisper says: I received it. :)