Stanislaus jail guards pursue off-duty gun dispute in appeals court

Jail guards throughout much of California are watching to see what comes of a court case brought by custodial deputy sheriffs in Stanislaus County who are suing for the right to carry concealed guns off duty without permits.

The deputies lost at trial and have appealed, saying that applying for permits, paying fees and renewing every four years is a burden that isn’t forced upon patrol deputies or state prison guards.

The lawsuit asks that custodial deputies “be treated under the law like other peace officers in California who have been wisely granted the privilege by the legislature to carry concealed weapons to protect themselves and their families while off duty.”

Defendants, including Sheriff Adam Christianson, his Sheriff’s Department and Stanislaus County, successfully contended at trial that legislators have classified jail guards differently, and state attorney general opinions appear to back that up.

Martin Mayer and James Touchstone, attorneys representing Stanislaus County

“Not all ‘peace officers’ are created equal,” attorneys representing the county said in a recent court brief, noting that state law grants custodial deputies the right to arm themselves only when at work.

Stanislaus custodial deputies’ identification cards specify that they can have concealed guns off duty only “when in the possession of a valid CCW (carrying concealed weapon) permit,” while patrol deputies’ cards simply say they’re authorized to carry concealed weapons.

“Custodial deputies are bureaucratically burdened” by this “discretionary executive action,” contends an attorney representing the Stanislaus County Deputy Sheriffs Association, in an appellate court document. The union asks that Christianson change wording on identification cards, not that he be ordered to grant concealed gun permits to jail guards.

“Clearly, this is an issue of statewide concern, affecting custodial deputies in 32 counties” among 58 in California with similar cultures, Richard P. Fisher, the union’s attorney, said in a brief. In an email, he said, “I think it is an issue of wide interest.”

UNLESS THE COURT ACTS, CONFUSION WILL CONTINUE TO REIGN AMONG THE 32 AFFECTED COUNTIES WHOSE CUSTODIAL DEPUTIES ARE SIMILARLY SITUATED.

Richard Fisher, attorney representing Stanislaus County Deputy Sheriffs Association

Some of the dispute stems from legislative definitions for what constitutes peace officer “authority,” “power” and “status.” A reasonable interpretation would not question the ability of retired jail guards to carry guns while providing no such protection before they retire – an “absurd result,” Fisher said in a brief.

In a 2012 email to a union member, Christianson said he was “uncomfortable” issuing cards without restrictions because no other California sheriff was doing so, especially when the state attorney general had opined that custodial deputies are different. Christianson used to waive permit fees of about $130 for jail guards but stopped because he said doing so could be viewed as an illegal gift of public funds.

Concealed-carry permits became a big issue during Christianson’s 2010 campaign, when he publicly reversed policy and began issuing hundreds more to regular people. The surge has not since unleashed wanton gun violence, he has said.

Both sides await scheduling of arguments before appellate justices in Fresno.