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Background

On Sunday, May 16th 2010 around 19:00, Rich Burgess entered Yale Billiards in Wallingford, CT at 950 Yale Avenue. He was wearing a Glock 23 in an outside the waistband holster on his right hip and also had two spare magazines on his waist. He was wearing cargo shorts and my blue t-shirt. His firearm was unconcealed just like his magazines in full compliance with Connecticut state law and his Connecticut Pistol Permit.

Mr. Burgess talked with a girl up front and paid for the use of a table with his girlfriend. They set up at their table and proceeded to play pool. The table was against the back wall of the establishment. There were at least 40 people in the pool hall. They had no trouble entering the establishment and received no comments. They noticed no concern in the looks they received and felt comfortable with the environment.

After playing pool for about 20-30 minutes, a man quietly and calmly approached Mr. Burgess. He identified himself as Robert Hilton, the owner of Yale Billiards. Mr. Hilton was calm and polite and did not seem angry, alarmed or unhappy. He simply had a concern of Mr. Burgess’ firearm being unconcealed. Mr. Hilton explained that he was not aware that it was legal to openly carry a firearm in Connecticut. Mr. Burgess informed him it was legal and handed Mr. Hilton some literature. Mr. Burgess told Mr. Hilton that he had the right to ask him to leave and that he would do so peacefully and quietly if he were asked to do so. Mr. Hilton instead inquired if I would conceal instead, to which Mr. Burgess informed that was not an option and that he would be happy to leave instead. Mr. Hilton expressed that he did not have an issue with the open carry but was concerned about allowing illegal behavior in his establishment. Mr. Hilton invited Mr. Burgess and his girlfriend to continue to play pool and said that he would go check out the literature and asked if Mr. Burgess would mind if he were to ask the Wallingford Police Department about the legality. Mr. Burgess had no problem with that. Everything went calmly, quietly, politely and professional on both sides.

Mr. Hilton walked away and stopped to talk to someone in the middle of the room. Mr. Burgess continued to play pool as he had been doing previously. They took about 1 or 2 more turns when Mark Vanaman, who appeared very hostile and aggressive, came charging towards Mr. Burgess from across the room. Vanaman came up to Mr. Burgess and got right in his face. Very loudly, he shouted “Are you going to conceal that? You need to conceal that! If you don’t conceal that I will call the police!” motioning towards my firearm. Mr. Burgess, feeling threatened by this man’s irrational and unreasonable actions, moved his body to try and position his firearm outside of Vanaman’s reach. Throughout Vanaman’s verbal assault, Mr. Burgess only replied “Are you the owner?” and “Who are you?”. Mr. Burgess believed that he had already met the owner and everything was fine. The owner, in fact, was still within sight and seemed bewildered by this behavior. Vanaman made no indication that he worked for the pool hall, or that he law enforcement. Vanaman got louder and more irate. Mr. Burgess backed away as Vanaman started walking around the hall yelling to everyone things like “He cannot carry that here because you serve alcohol” and other legal misinformation. Vanaman left to stand in front of the exit of the pool hall.

At this point, the owner shook off his own shock and walked towards Mr. Burgess where Mr. Burgess said “I think we better leave here so we don’t cause you any further disruptions, we will go deal with the police outside”. The owner agreed. Mr. Burgess and his girlfriend picked up their things, racked the balls back up, put their pool sticks back into the rack where they came from, and walked to the front desk. The owner joined them there and collected their rented items. At this point, Mr. Burgess and his girlfriend noticed Vanaman standing in front of the pool hall door blocking anyone from entering or exiting. Mr. Burgess’ girlfriend even exclaimed as they approached the door “Oh god, now he is blocking the door”. They continued to go towards the door, exercising caution in case of further escalation of Vanaman’s clearly unstable state. Vanaman was on the phone with Wallingford police dispatch. At the last minute, Vanaman cleared out of the doorway and went outside, still on the phone with the police. Vanaman now proceed to pace back and forth in the parking lot in an agitated manner yelling into the phone.

Mr. Burgess and his girlfriend took a seat on the bench directly outside the door of the pool hall. Within a very short amount of time they were joined on the bench by various players from inside the pool hall. They asked Mr. Burgess various questions about open carry and CT law, and a good discussion on the issues was had.

Mr. Burgess’ girlfriend retrieved another copy of the literature so that they could make sure the police were aware of the laws. She went to the car which was a bit to the right of where Vanaman was pacing. She got the documents and sat back down next to Mr. Burgess on the bench. Vanaman now went over and took photos of Mr. Burgess’ car and the license plates.

Within moments approximately 6 people had gathered around Mr. Burgess on the bench outside hanging around asking questions and voicing sympathy with what went down inside moments before. People expressed their dissatisfaction with Vanaman and his actions. Mr. Hilton came outside at various points to check on things and see if the police had yet arrived.

When police did start to arrive, they made a perimeter around the large parking complex in front of the building and slowly moved closer. The police pulled Vanaman aside and talked to him before approaching Mr. Burgess, who was still calmly seated on the bench with people all around him having a friendly discussions. People laughed and joked about the ridiculous reaction to what amounted to a friendly Mr. Burgess waving to the overzealous police officers. The people around Mr. Burgess discussed making it clear to the police what really occurred inside and who had caused the disturbance.

Police officers finally approached where they were sitting. They immediately told everyone else but Mr. Burgess and his girlfriend to leave despite there being no hostile actions or any threat on anyone’s part. Sergeant Colavolpe talked first and told Mr. Burgess to stay still and not move his hands or make any sudden movements. Mr. Burgess complied. Sergeant Colavolpe reached down, unholstered Mr. Burgess’ Glock and proceeded to unload it right in front of the pool hall with the muzzle pointed at the glass window front of the hall where people were playing pool inside.

Mr. Burgess was now asked to stand up and Officer Garcia immediately placed him in handcuffs. Mr. Burgess presented no resistance to the arrest, but he did start inquiring what he was being arrested for. The officers replied that Mr. Burgess was carrying a firearm unconcealed and that it would be for breach of peace. Mr. Burgess told them that open carry is not illegal in Connecticut and that he was not the person who had caused any disturbance. Several times, Mr. Burgess informed the police that the person who had caused the disturbance was Vanaman and he was still pacing around the parking lot.

The police ignored Mr. Burgess.

The literature presented to the officers was thrown to the ground and stepped on by the officers.

The officers detained Mr. Burgess for a significant amount of time while Sergeant Colavolpe called Lieutenant Martino to check on the laws. When the call ended, Sergeant Colavolpe instructed Officer Garcia to transport Mr. Burgess and book him for Breach of Peace.

Officer Garcia loaded Mr. Burgess into the back of his cruiser, took him to the police department, and commenced with booking me. Officer fingerprinted Mr. Burgess, took mug shots and then asked Mr. Burgess to sign a document waiving his rights, telling Mr. Burgess that not doing so “would really hurt my chances in court”. Mr. Burgess refused.

Officer Garcia informed Mr. Burgess that he was now being charged with Disorderly Conduct instead of Breach of Peace. He was informed by Officer Garcia that it was because he was not being arrested for the unconcealed carry of his firearm now, but instead for creating a disturbance at the pool hall. Mr. Burgess once again repeated to Officer Garcia that Vanaman had caused the disturbance, not Mr. Burgess. During the booking process, it was also discovered that Mr. Burgess’ arresting officer was Officer Flood, someone that Mr. Burgess did not recall seeing or speaking to on the scene of the arrest.

After some time passed, Mr. Burgess was finally informed that he would be released on a promise to appear and that the officers would let him go after Officer Garcia brought him upstairs. In the office was Officer Garcia, Sergeant Colavolpe and Officer Flood. On the table was Mr. Burgess’ Glock, his three magazines and a bag full of his ammunition, every round unloaded from the magazines they had been in. The officers informed Mr. Burgess that he would be leaving with his firearm and property. Mr. Burgess inquired what would happen if he reholstered his firearm and carried openly out of the police department. Mr. Burgess was told that nothing would happen and that open carry was legal. Sergeant Colavolpe even went so far as to tell him “We really need to get more education on this”.

Mr. Burgess asked the sergeant what was needed to press the same disorderly conduct charge on Vanaman since the police had made it clear that they intended to arrest the person whom had caused the disturbance. Mr. Burgess was informed that he could make a written statement and they would submit it to the court who would decide if a warrant would be issued for Vanaman’s arrest. Mr. Burgess agreed to this, but said he would like to do this the following night instead. The sergeant left the room while Officer Flood explained the property form to Mr. Burgess and had him sign the form as a receipt for his property. Sergeant Colavolpe returned with Lieutenant Martino. Lieutenant Martino was actively angry. He informed Mr. Burgess that he would not be pressing charges on the aggressor because he had not called the police at the scene. Mr. Burgess informed Lieutenant Martino that he had done nothing wrong and that he was unclear of why he was still being charged. Lieutenant Martino proceeded to explain that Mr. Burgess was being charged for causing the disturbance because Mr. Burgess carried his firearm without concealment. Mr. Burgess explained that the lawful act of carrying a firearm did not mean that Vanaman was right in making a disturbance and that Mr. Burgess was now somehow responsible for Vanaman’s actions. Lieutenant Martino loudly informed Mr. Burgess that he ‘didn’t want to hear his lawyer talk’. Mr. Burgess could see he was getting nowhere. At this point, Lieutenant Martino launched into a tirade about how if he didn’t care about what Mr. Burgess was saying and that if Mr. Burgess carried a firearm onto a school’s property that he would be arrested. Mr. Burgess agreed and expressed that this was not a valid comparison since carrying on school property is not legal but carrying in a pool hall is. The conversation ended when Lieutenant Martino was done throwing his tantrum.

Officer Flood escorted Mr. Burgess out of the police department and handed him his firearm and property in the parking lot. In the parking lot, Mr. Burgess said goodbye to Officer Flood and shook his hand as well. Mr. Burgess told him that he was sorry that this was going to turn out badly for Officer Flood and that this would not be the last time he saw Mr. Burgess. Officer Flood replied that he knew and that he was ready for it. Apparently Officer Flood wasn’t too concerned with Mr. Burgess’ warning since shortly afterwards he changed departments from Wallingford to Cheshire.