SUGAR HILL -- A Forsyth County man has filed a federal lawsuit claiming a security guard and two Gwinnett police officers violated his rights when he was exercising in a Sugar Hill park with a licensed handgun on his hip.
Cumming resident Christopher Proescher filed a suit Friday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta that stems from an April 20 incident at Gary Pirkle Park. Proescher was walking around the park that day with a Smith & Wesson handgun in a belt holster, which he carries a license for, he said.
Before using the park while armed, Proescher said he consulted the parks director and was told that doing so is permissible.
Defendants named in the suit are private security guard Reid Hanna and Gwinnett County Police Department officers Adam Bell and Rodney Dantzler. The suit demands a trial, where jurors would decide damages. It claims Proescher's Constitutional rights protecting him from unreasonable searches and seizure were violated, along with his right to free speech and to bear arms.
Hannah, employed by a company called Plaza Security, is contracted by the city of Sugar Hill for park security, the suit states.
Proescher works at a firearms business and lives about six miles from the park, which he'd been frequenting a few times a week in an effort to shed pounds. He is armed at all times because, at age 53, he's too old to fight back against muggers, he said.
"If I have pants on, I probably have a firearm on, but I don't do it at any unauthorized locations," Proescher said. "I don't do it as a political statement -- it's allowed and people should get used to it."
Proescher said he was walking on a pedestrian pathway for 20 minutes when Hannah stopped him and said carrying a firearm in a park violated a Gwinnett County ordinance. Proescher said that was wrong. After a brief argument, Proescher said Hannah "threw him out" of the park on grounds that he was rude and carrying a firearm near a playground.
As Proescher walked to his car, Gwinnett officers arrived. Hannah had called them in reference to a suspicious person, according to a police report.
Officer Bell detained Proescher, seized the weapon and searched him, though he did not consent, the suit claims. The police report states the weapon was taken so officers could confirm it was not stolen.
Proescher had a valid Georgia weapons license issued in Forsyth County. But according to the report, he declined to answer officer's question about having a driver's license, or how he'd arrived at the park. A police corporal called a magistrate judge, who advised there was sufficient probable cause to arrest Proescher on charges of criminal trespass, a felony. Police found another weapon inside Proescher's impounded car and 100 rounds of ammunition, the report states.
Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Edwin Ritter said neither the department nor the individual officers would be able to comment on pending litigation. Hanna did not return calls to his office and cell phone.
The suit does not name Hanna's company or Gwinnett County as defendants.
Proescher said he was held at the Gwinnett County Jail for 13 hours before his release on $1,300 security bond. His firearm was confiscated and has yet to be returned, he said.
He said he's kept away from parks since the ordeal.
With a valid license, Georgia law allows guns to be carried everywhere but schools, churches, courthouses, government buildings, jails, nuclear power facilities, polling places and bars, unless bar owners permit them, said Proescher's attorney, John Monroe.