The city of Lakewood is considering whether to make it a crime to display a toy gun in a threatening manner.
The proposed change would come in the wake of a Lakewood municipal judge dismissing the case of a woman who allegedly waved a toy gun in front of her roommates in a way that made them feel unsafe. The city had charged her with a weapons violation, but the judge concluded the item was not a weapon.
It also follows a fatal officer-involved shooting of a man wielding a toy gun, though city officials say there’s no connection between that incident and the proposed law change.
Council members were scheduled to approve the new law Monday night but sent it to committee for further study.
The proposed law would make it illegal to carry or display a firearm or “any other item that appears to be capable” of causing harm in a manner that intimidates others or causes them to fear for their safety. But council members raised concerns that “any other item” was too broad a definition, so they struck that language. Mayor Don Anderson asked Friday if that meant holding a can of soup in a hostile manner would be prosecuted under the proposed law.
Anderson said the council is supportive of making it unlawful to intimidate someone with a toy gun but more work is needed.
“The hangup was the details of the definitions,” he said. “We want it polished.”
In a change the council did approve, violations of the weapons ordinance will be charged as gross misdemeanors instead of misdemeanors, meaning offenders could face more time behind bars and a stiffer fine.
Acting City Attorney Matthew Kaser said his office previously prosecuted people for unlawful use of pellet guns. However, the recent dismissal in the toy gun case raised questions about the city’s ability to bring charges against someone who uses a fake gun in a way that could make victims feel just as afraid, he said.
“The code covers weapons,” he said. “Toy doesn’t equal weapon even though toy may look like gun.”
On Feb. 21, Lakewood police responded to a report on the 3100 block of 84th Street South of a woman carrying a gun into her apartment during an argument with her roommates. They were all being evicted from their apartment.
Officers found a small plastic toy gun in the apartment. The orange safety paint on the front of the barrel had been colored over with a black marker, the report stated.
Her roommates told police the 34-year-old woman waved the toy during the confrontation.
“Both indicated (the woman) had not made any verbal threats to shoot or kill either of them, but both felt threatened by her having what appeared to them to be a real gun,” the police report stated.
The woman denied to police that she waved the toy around. She was charged with unlawful use of a weapon “apparently capable of producing bodily harm.”
Her attorney, Kristin Fay, sought to dismiss the charge, arguing that the toy couldn’t have harmed anyone.
“It is undisputed that the weapon (the woman) was alleged to have carried was a toy gun,” she wrote in her motion. “A toy gun is not capable of causing bodily harm any more than any other inanimate object can cause harm.”
Lakewood Municipal Judge Ernest Heller agreed and dismissed the charge on July 22.
His decision came about a month after a far more serious incident involving a toy gun.
Lakewood police officers shot and killed 28-year-old Patrick O’Meara on June 18 after he failed to obey their orders to drop the weapon he was holding, according to the department’s account. O’Meara had been wanted on a felony warrant.
The weapon O’Meara had been holding turned out to be a “very realistic-looking metal cap gun,” the department reported.
Both Kaser and Police Chief Bret Farrar said there’s no connection between the officer-involved shooting and the change in regulations.
Farrar said officers are authorized to use deadly force when an individual points an item that resembles a gun in a manner that makes an officer fear for his safety or life.
“If you are told to drop it, and you don’t drop it and make a threatening move with it, you’re going to get shot, more than likely,” Farrar said.
The investigations into O’Meara’s killing are pending.