Two Oak Harbor councilmen did nothing more than exercise their First Amendment rights during a Jan. 15 meeting that spawned a controversy over Second Amendment rights, the Island County prosecutor concluded.
Prosecutor Greg Banks said Thursday he won’t pursue charges against councilmen Rick Almberg and Joel Servatius after reviewing a police investigation into their conduct.
In a lengthy press release, Banks said he wanted to counter misconceptions about the U.S. Constitution and the law as espoused by Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley and gun-rights advocates.
Banks’ comments may be read in their entirety on page A7 of today’s Whidbey News-Times.
“It is worth noting that a law restricting guns from City Council chambers would not be unconstitutional,” he said. “The protections provided by the Bill of Rights, including the right to bear arms, are not absolute.”
The councilmen said they were aware of the investigation, but knew it was frivolous.
“This is just another manufactured political maneuver orchestrated by the mayor,” Servatius wrote in an email. “There was no crime, and there was no punishment. The only possible crime committed here is the attempted character assassination of myself and Mr. Almberg.”
Dudley, however, said he had nothing to do with the complaint or investigation, though he maintains that he believes the councilmen violated their oaths of office.
Oak Harbor resident William Frail filed a complaint against Almberg and Servatius on Feb. 7, Banks said.
Frail alleged the councilmen “criminally violated their oaths of office by attempting and conspiring to deprive citizens of constitutional rights.”
Frail, who could not be reached for comment, was a critic of the council over gun-rights issues.
He brought a rifle and a protest sign to a couple of meetings and demanded Almberg and Servatius resign.
At the Jan. 15 meeting, Oak Harbor resident Lucas Yonkman spoke to the City Council in favor of gun rights in response to the council’s decision not to amend a section of city code barring guns from city parks.
Yonkman admitted that he was armed.
In response, Almberg made a motion for armed citizens at the meeting to check their firearms with the police chief while in council chambers. Almberg and Servatius voted in favor of the motion, which failed.
Almberg then left the meeting in protest.
At the end of the meeting, Dudley held up a framed copy of the council members’ oath of office, claiming that they violated their oath to “support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and Laws of the State of Washington.”
Grant Weed, the city’s interim attorney, has since concluded that the councilmen did not violate their oaths.
Almberg asked Dudley for an apology, but didn’t receive one.
Oak Harbor Police Chief Ed Green said he asked the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office to investigate Frail’s complaint in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Banks said the detective sent the investigative report to him for review, and that the report didn’t recommend charges.
It is clear, Banks said, that the councilmen did nothing wrong.
“In the United States of America, legislators are authorized and expected to vigorously exercise their First Amendment right and express their thoughts and ideas, regardless of the popularity of those ideas,” he wrote.
“The continued vitality of our democracy depends on all citizens, especially our elected leaders, being free to express themselves, without a litmus test for consistency with the ideas of others.”
Banks said lawmakers and others regularly propose laws whose constitutionality are subject to question.
“Should Tim Eyman be incarcerated for proposing initiatives that were later determined to be unconstitutional?” he asked rhetorically.
Moreover, both state and federal constitutions allow reasonable regulation of guns, which includes the barring firearms from certain areas, Banks said; therefore, it would not be a violation of the Constitution to ban guns from a council chambers.
Where council runs into trouble with attempts at gun regulation isn’t a constitutional issue, but a state statute that places limits on the authority of local governments to pass ordinances regulating firearms, said Banks.