County files for summary judgment in Festival gun suit

Declarations emphasize need for ruling in order to hold back ‘impending protest’

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

Bonner County filed a motion for summary judgement April 28 in its lawsuit against the city of Sandpoint, asking for a court ruling on whether The Festival at Sandpoint has the legal right as a lessee to ban firearms from publicly owned War Memorial Field during its annual summertime concert series.

Though event organizers announced May 4 that The Festival would cancel its 2020 season owing to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, Bonner County Commissioner Dan McDonald confirmed to the Sandpoint Reader that the county does not anticipate changing its approach to the lawsuit.

An unidentified individual carrying a firearm outside the gates at the Festival at Sandpoint in 2019.
Photo by Racheal Baker.

“It was always our hope that we would get a declaratory judgement sooner than later so The Festival could plan accordingly,” McDonald said. “With The Festival choosing to cancel, it’s still imperative to get that declaratory judgement so as to clarify application of the law in question.”

Kootenai County District Court Judge Lansing L. Haynes, who is presiding over the case, will hear the county’s motion for summary judgment on Tuesday, May 26 at 1:30 p.m. at the Bonner County Courthouse.

Filed in conjunction with the motion for summary judgement were a number of declarations on behalf of the plaintiffs, identified in the court documents as Bonner County and Sheriff Daryl Wheeler. The declarations focused on the ruling as necessary to coordinate a uniform law enforcement response to The Festival’s no-weapons policy — including how Sandpoint police officers and county deputies are to deal with what Wheeler and another declaration writer described as an “impending” gun rights demonstration at Memorial Field should the court decline to make a ruling.

Two declarations — submitted by firearms instructors Steve Wasylko of Bonner County and Tosh Lanquist of Kootenai County — asserted that they and many others would gather at The Festival gates in armed protest should the court fail to rule one way or the other prior to the next event, which is now scheduled to take place in August 2021.

“No matter how responsible and well-behaved the protestors may be, arguments, skirmishes or confrontations can be like a match in an incredibly dry area in that type of environment,” Wheeler wrote in his declaration.

Richard Welts, a retired Los Angeles police officer specializing in security, wrote in his declaration that a gun rights demonstration at The Festival has the potential to escalate into something like the deadly Unite the Right rally and protests in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

“The risk of such a threat in an impending protest cannot be ignored by law enforcement, and all efforts to clarify the law and provide a coordinated law enforcement response should be made for public safety,” Welts wrote.

While the various declarations asserted that such a demonstration at The Festival could turn violent, past demonstrations in the area — such as the March For Our Rights, a gun rights rally that Wasylko organized in Sandpoint — have remained peaceful. In response to that observation, McDonald said, “While I agree, the protests locally to date have been peaceful, all it takes is one person to create a problem.”

“When you look on a national level, however, the issue and probability becomes more of a concern,” he continued. “Wouldn’t wisdom dictate that we look to avoid this kind of conflict altogether by getting a formal declaratory judgement?”

Festival at Sandpoint Interim Executive Director Ali Baranski called talk of an armed protest at the event “irresponsible,” yet told the Reader that the organization — before the decision May 4 to cancel the 2020 season — had put in place “steps and strategies … beyond additional security to ensure the safety and comfort of our fans, musicians, volunteers and staff.”

When asked follow-up questions regarding his declaration, Wheeler directed the Reader to review the legal documents. When pressed, Wheeler’s executive assistant, Sheryl Kins, replied in an email May 4: “The Sheriff has no further comments — the documents speak for themselves.”

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