Texas DA Undermines Legislature, Invents Weapon Free Zone Around Cops
FORT WORTH TX – Kenneth Lovett, a civil rights activist from Lone Oak, was convicted last week of “interfering with public duties” and “disorderly conduct” for legally carrying a black powder pistol on his person while recording Arlington police officers conducting a traffic stop in early 2015. If the charges and subsequent conviction didn’t provide enough head scratching, Tarrant County judge Phil Sorrells sentenced Lovett to serve 90 days in jail, immediately following the trial. Lovett is currently out on bond, pending appeal.
In early 2015, the Texas open carry movement was dominating national headlines. Activists were creating controversy all over the state by carrying shotguns, rifles, and black powder pistols in public, all of which are completely legal to open carry without a license, as a form of protest against the restrictions on carrying modern pistols in Texas. Prior to January 1, 2016, Texas was just one of five states that completely prohibited the open carry of modern pistols. Therefore, it was not uncommon to see activists in public with a civil war era pistols on their hip during this time.
Coincidentally, another movement that was, and is arguably still manifesting itself, is the police accountability movement. Whereby activists, and regular citizens record police interactions and post the results to social media. The idea being that police are on their best behavior when they know they are being recorded and aren’t in control of the footage. Lovett, and a smaller faction of activists in the Arlington, Texas area were known to combine both of these movements into one, by exercising their right to self defense while filming government officials in the course of their duties.
However, Arlington police almost immediately took issue with armed activists showing up to their traffic stops and would often engage them and issue orders to “move back” to an arbitrary location of the officers choosing. Activists would usually comply, but would often question the orders as it impeded their ability to record the scene.
Unfortunately, it was also common practice during this time for law enforcement to arrest activists for essentially carrying these weapons under the excuse that it was an act “calculated to cause alarm.” However, most cases brought against open carriers were dismissed, and their property was returned. However, Lovett’s case sets an alarming precedent for anyone who believes in the right to self defense, or, the right to hold government officials accountable.
The Texas legislature has defined all weapon free zones in Sec. 46.03 of the penal code, however, suspiciously missing is the prohibition of weapons near police officers. In fact, Jason Villalba (R- Dallas), sparked national outrage for merely proposing a gun free bubble around police officers as a measure to combat armed cop watchers from recording police. After being raked through the coals of a viscous media cycle, Villalba let the bill die in committee, and admitted the language of the proposal was not optimal.
However, it seems that the state has found a new way to threaten and punish gun rights activists outside the purview of the Texas legislature by using the “catch all” charges of “interfering with public duties” and “disorderly conduct.” Melinda Westmoreland, assistant district attorney of Tarrant County, unilaterally decided that the mere presence of a weapon near a police officer somehow interferes with the officers ability to do his job.
“It’s a safety issue first and foremost. There’s an area there that’s not safe for them to come into,” said Westmoreland. “When you have an arrest being made across the street and then you have people displaying deadly weapons, it becomes a safety concern — and at that point it is interfering with public duties.”
When asked by the local NBC affiliate if the 90 day sentence was appropriate in this case, she responded in the affirmative.
“I do feel like [Lovett’s] sentence was appropriate in this particular case,” said Westmoreland. “I hope it sends a message that we’re not going to tolerate people showing up on traffic stops with deadly weapons.”
By the state’s own admission, had Lovett complied with the officers order to disarm, and put his weapon back in his vehicle, he would have been free to film the traffic stop in question. The only issue at hand was the Lovetts weapon. So, for all intents and purposes, the legislation that Rep. Villalba filed and was vilified for, has now come to fruition through overzealous prosecution.
Political activism usually involves challenging authority, an idea that most Texans, or Americans for that matter, are simply not ready to accept. For some, filming the police in and of itself is a controversial act. Some believe that filming the police is “disrespectful,” or causes more problems than it solves. But however you feel about the activism of Kenneth Lovett, you should understand the slippery slope that prosecuting him as a criminal creates. If Lovett’s conviction is allowed to stand, gun rights in the state of Texas is as good as dead. If prosecutors can undermine the legislature by implementing weapon free bubbles around government officials under the color of law, then the legislature is powerless. If a prosecutor can decide that one can’t exercise two lawful activities at the same time, then we admit that we live in a lawless society. If the “feelings” of government officials matter more than the rights of the citizens they are tasked to serve, then we admit that government officials are a protected class, who have special rights, above what is granted by god.
You may despise individual activists or a particular cause, but you should be outraged at the misapplication of law as a form of gun control in the case of Kenneth Lovett. The court room is not a tool to punish political dissent, it is a method by which to bring criminals to justice. Yet, Lovett has harmed no one person or property in this case and is facing incarceration as a result. This case is bigger than any one person or cause, this sets precedent and sends the wrong message to governments all over the state that prosecutors don’t need to adhere to laws, they can simply invent them.
Lovett is currently raising funds to appeal to this malicious prosecution, and you can donate via paypal here: paypal.me/KennethLovett
Watch the Original Arrest video
Watch FOX4 News Coverage of the Conviction