By Zach Hagadone
The city of Sandpoint has submitted its response to a lawsuit filed by Bonner County over the prohibition of firearms at the Festival at Sandpoint.
According to the 11-page document, delivered Oct. 15 to First District Court, the city through its recently retained legal representative Peter Erbland of Coeur d’Alene-based Lake City Law denies throughout “that it regulates the possession of firearms on City property leased to others, including the Festival grounds.” What’s more, the city argues that Bonner County lacks standing to make the allegations in its complaint and thus has no standing to seek a declaratory judgment or injunction against Sandpoint.
The city is asking that the complaint be dismissed with prejudice and a judge award reasonable attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to Idaho Code, as well as any other relief identified by the court.
The response comes a little less than a month after Bonner County filed its complaint on Sept. 18, represented by Davillier Law, with offices in New Orleans and Sandpoint. In its complaint, the county argued that by allowing the Festival at Sandpoint to ban weapons from its two-week summer concert series, the city violated state statute prohibiting municipalities from regulating firearms on public property.
The Festival leases publicly-owned War Memorial Field to host the event, which has taken place annually for 37 years, leading Bonner County to claim that Sandpoint is granting a regulatory power to the Festival that it has no legal right to give.
“Sandpoint’s direct regulation, and regulation by lease creates a cloud of uncertainty, and a chilling effect, with regard to the right to exercise Idaho rights, and the enforcement of Idaho law, under the Idaho Constitution and Idaho statutes on public property in Bonner County,” the county stated in its complaint.
Again and again in its response, the city argued that it has no policy “written or unwritten, prohibiting the carrying of weapons on property leased from the City,” nor has it “granted any such regulatory power to any other entity, including the Festival.” Rather, the response stated, “Festival staff carried out Festival policy concerning firearms possession on Festival grounds during Festival sponsored events.”
When asked to point to a specific Sandpoint city policy or code section establishing “direct regulation” of firearms on public property, Bonner County Commissioner Dan McDonald — who since August has taken the lead on championing the lawsuit — told the Sandpoint Reader in an email that, “The Festival is the lessee and because they are leasing public ground, are bound to the laws governing public ground. Because the City doesn’t have the ability or right to regulate firearms possession on public ground per IC 18-3302J, the city can’t convey or allow that right to be extended to the lessee.”
The city’s response goes on to push back against allegations by the county that former Sandpoint City Attorney Will Harrington and a Sandpoint police officer “stood in a line,” “forming a human barrier physically blocking” two residents from entering the Festival. The residents in question were Second Amendment activists Scott Herndon and Jeff Avery, who attempted to enter the Festival carrying firearms as a means to test the no-weapons policy.
According to the city, “Mr. Herndon attempted to engage in a legal debate with the Festival gate security,” prompting security to call over an officer to address Herndon and Avery.
Both parties agree Herndon and Avery were given the option of putting their firearms in their vehicles and returning to the Festival gate unarmed or be refunded for their tickets.
As video footage of the exchange confirms, Harrington was on hand during the incident and did address Herndon and Avery, but the city denies any “human barrier” blocking the men from entering the field — nor is one readily apparent in a review of the footage. The city denies “any illegality on its part or on the part of Mr. William Harrington,” the response states.
Referring to the request for dismissal and claim that the county has no standing, McDonald told the Reader, “clearly we disagree and we believe the facts will show we are correct.”
“It wasn’t a surprise and if the roles were reversed we would have tried the same thing,” he said.
Additional reporting by Lyndsie Kiebert.
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