State

Agents seized 500 guns and 100,000 rounds of ammo from a family. They got them back.

California Department of Justice

After a lengthy court fight, a Clovis family forced the return of 500 firearms seized by the California Department of Justice in 2015.

The weapons were confiscated by state DOJ agents acting on information that Albert Sheakalee was barred from owning guns because he was in the state’s Armed Prohibited Persons (APPS) database.

However, his attorney, Mark Coleman of Fresno, argued that Sheakalee did not know that he was in the database. Coleman said the justice department broke a promise to Sheakalee to keep the raid confidential until a court hearing determined whether he was mentally fit to own guns.

The arrest of Sheakalee and the gun seizure were highly publicized by the DOJ in a 2015 press release that received widespread media coverage. At the time of the arrest, the DOJ stated that Sheakalee was barred from firearms ownership “as a result of being taken into custody under Welfare and Institutions Code 5150,” under which officers can take someone in for evaluation if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others.

At the time of his arrest, Sheakalee had no prior criminal history, according to a check of the Fresno County Superior Court. He is the owner of the Green Gables Care Home in Clovis.

This has been a pretty traumatic experience for the family.

Mark Coleman, attorney for Albert Sheakalee

The issue took on renewed interest this year when President Donald Trump signed a bill scrapping an Obama administration regulation adding those receiving mental health disability benefits to the national firearm background-check database. Persons in the database are barred from buying guns.

No charges were ever filed against Sheakalee, but the firearms were not returned until Coleman went to court. On Dec. 12, 2016, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jonathan Conklin ordered the guns turned over to a Fresno firearms dealer on behalf of the family.

Said Coleman: “As far as I am concerned, it was a real political deal. (California Attorney General Kamala) Harris was running for senator.”

Harris, who won election in November of 2016, declared her candidacy in January of 2015.

The state Attorney General’s Office in San Francisco did not return repeated requests for comment.

Under the California APPS system, teams of special agents of the attorney general travel through the state in black SUVs in search of those barred from possessing firearms by state law, including felons and those diagnosed as mentally unstable.

The agents who went to Sheakalee’s home seized 209 handguns, 88 shotguns, 234 rifles, 181 standard capacity magazines, 100,000 rounds of ammunition and 10 guns designated assault weapons under California law, including a .50 caliber bolt-action rifle.

Agents seized 209 handguns, 88 shotguns, 234 rifles, 181 standard capacity magazines, 100,000 rounds of ammunition and 10 guns designated assault weapons under California law, including a .50 caliber bolt-action rifle.

Coleman, the attorney for Sheakalee, argued that the majority of the guns were bolt-action rifles and shotguns used for hunting along with legal handguns. The assault weapons were registered with the Department of Justice and all the weapons were in a locked safe with an alarm system, he said.

Coleman said, “the problem is with the way (the guns were seized.) This has been a pretty traumatic experience for the family.”

In a motion filed seeking the return of the guns on Dec. 5, 2016, Coleman argued that the DOJ stated Sheakalee was notified in July of 2015 that he could not own firearms. However, Coleman said, postal records indicate the letter was not delivered until Nov. 25, 2015, 13 days after Sheakalee was arrested for possessing the weapons. No charges were filed against Sheakalee by the Fresno County District Attorney.

On July 12, 2016, according to Coleman’s motion, the DOJ notified Sheakalee that charges against him were resolved, and he was told to contact DOJ Agent Chris Wagner to arrange for the disposition of the firearms. He was given 180 days to do so. The letter, signed by Special Agent Michael Haroldsen, also noted that “all evidence, (all personal property, including firearms) relating to your criminal case will be destroyed” if no response was received.

Coleman said several efforts were made to reach Wagner before Wagner responded and said that he could not release the guns until he contacted his supervisor, DOJ Agent Isaias Rivera. Coleman said when he contacted Rivera, he was told the weapons would not be returned. (The guns were returned this year.)

Supporters of Trump’s action to lift the firearm purchase ban for some receiving disability benefits argued that the ban was too broad and could include someone seeking help for such things as an eating disorder.

Coleman said targeting those seeking mental health care is “going to result in people refusing to seek mental health treatment” because they do not want to be in a database, causing “an incredible chilling effect.”

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