The active duty soldier who had his guns confiscated by the District of Columbia two years ago will have his property returned by Memorial Day. It took the help of a high-powered lawyer, two U.S. Senators, a member of Congress and national publicity to force the obstinate District to show some respect for the Constitution. It should never happen again.
(This is part three of a four-part series. Click here to read part one.)
On Friday, D.C. property clerk Derek Gray determined the city would finally return 1st Lt. Augustine Kim’s “dangerous articles” because the Army national guardsman fulfilled the plea agreement arranged with the U.S. attorney’s office a year earlier. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) arrested Lt. Kim on four felony charges of carrying firearms in the District after he was pulled over with the items securely stored in his trunk, as is allowed under federal law.
Lt. Kim pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of possessing an unregistered gun, and that charge was dismissed in May 2011. Since then, Lt. Kim’s lawyer, Richard Gadiner, had failed to get the attention of Mr. Gray, who refused to respond to his repeated requests for a hearing.
That changed after The Washington Times published a story about the case last Monday. The long-time firearms lawyer had never known the city to set up a hearing within a matter of days. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, spoke with Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier on Thursday. Fellow Palmetto State Republican Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Tim Scott have also been engaged. “When you get two senior U.S. senators and a member of Congress calling the chief of police, it makes a difference,” Mr. Gardiner explained.
Friday’s hearing was held in a tiny, windowless room in the massive MPD evidence building in Southwest. Mr. Gray (photo, above left) spent 17 minutes going through the papers in Mr. Kim’s file with the attorney before arriving announcing the decision. MPD would transfer the guns to a police department near Lt. Kim’s home in Charleston, S.C. next week. After the hearing, Mr. Gardiner called his client. “Augee is so laconic,” said his smiling defense attorney. “All he said was, ‘That’s good news.’”
Asked how such situations could be avoided in the future, Mr. Gardiner suggested the District be held to the same standard as the federal government. The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act says the federal government has 60 days from the date of seizure to send out notices to possible claimants. Then if someone files a claim, the feds have 90 days to file a forfeiture case or return the property.
In Lt. Kim’s case, it would have meant getting his guns back 8 months earlier, saving considerable hassle and expense. Lt. Kim was lawfully transporting his firearms through the District and should never have been arrested in the first place.
A soldier who served two tours in Afghanistan and was injured so severely that he spent three months in surgeries and recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center deserves gratitude for his service to the country, not a drawn-out legal ordeal. The South Carolina congressional delegation ought to introduce legislation to make sure this never happens again.
Click here to read the final part of the story: D.C. Police Damage Soldier’s Guns
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.