Inside Report: BR gun law challenged in lawsuit

Baton Rouge resident Ernest Taylor, 53, wants the Baton Rouge Police Department to return his three rifles.

Taylor, of the 4400 block of McClelland Drive, also wants unspecified compensation for what he views as an unjustified arrest by police officers and jailing that occurred in the early hours of Oct. 13.

And Taylor is asking Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson to declare City Ordinance 13:95.3 unconstitutional. The ordinance prohibits residents from keeping firearms in their parked cars while they are inside establishments that market alcohol.

Taylor notes in his civil suit in federal court in Baton Rouge that he has no felony convictions.

Cpl. Patrick Wennemann and Officer James Thomas reported in police records they stopped Taylor’s vehicle at 1:35 a.m. after they saw him drive out of the parking lot of Romeo’s Old School Lounge, 3827 Plank Road, without any lights on.

As Thomas questioned Taylor, according to the report, Wennemann noticed two rifles inside Taylor’s car. Taylor then jerked away from Thomas as the officer attempted to escort him to the police car. Both officers then handcuffed Thomas and placed him in the back seat of that car.

The officers also booked Taylor for possession of a firearm where alcohol is sold, resisting an officer, and failure to use headlights where they were required.

In addition, after a records check, the officers arrested Taylor on a misdemeanor warrant for aggravated assault. And the officers reported asking Taylor whether there were any other guns in his car.

After Taylor replied there were no more firearms, Wennemann and Thomas reported, they discovered an SKS 7.62 mm semi-automatic rifle in the trunk of Taylor’s vehicle.

Taylor’s story, as outlined in his federal suit, is different.

Taylor said he left his car in the parking lot of a store across the street from the lounge.

After being stopped by officers, Taylor said, he told Thomas there were two rifles in the passenger compartment of his car and ownership papers in the glove box.

At that point, Taylor said, Wennemann shouted “Gun!” and Thomas grabbed him. Taylor admitted he initially resisted, but said he told the officers he would cooperate, and the use of force would not be necessary. He said the officers then used force to handcuff and place him in the police car.

Receipts for Taylor’s rifles indicate they were purchased from a pawn shop for a combined price of $850.

Baton Rouge’s prohibition against guns in vehicles parked at businesses that sell or serve alcohol has been in effect since 1951, Taylor said. He alleges the city-parish ordinance conflicts with a 2008 Louisiana law that permits firearms in locked vehicles in “any parking lot, parking garage, or other designated parking area.”

“If you and I go duck hunting and stop for gas at a convenience store, (police) can arrest us because they sell beer there,” said Christopher D. Glisson, one of Taylor’s attorneys. “Or, we had a successful duck hunt, and we want to stop at Winn-Dixie to pick up some steaks. We can’t do that either, in Baton Rouge.”

Glisson added that relevant state law essentially says: “Don’t go in a bar with a gun.”

Parish Attorney Mary Roper declined to comment on the civil lawsuit, saying local officials do not comment on pending litigation.

Taylor’s City Court trial is scheduled for Nov. 8, Glisson said.

A trial date has yet to be set for Taylor’s civil suit in federal court.

Bill Lodge covers federal courts for The Advocate. He can be reached at blodge@theadvocate.com.