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County official says deputy's gun range violates zoning law

May 21, 2002|BY SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Ryan Shifflet said he did not know he was violating any county laws by having a shooting range on family land east of Hancock.

Shifflet, 22, a deputy since May 2000, said he and family members had been shooting on the .92-acre plot on Heavenly Acres Ridge for about 13 years. He said he only shot small-caliber handguns at the range, which he said he has stopped using.

Shifflet and neighbor James W. True Sr. disagree on whether the range is safe and whether bullets sometimes ended up on True's property.

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Washington County Permits and Inspections Department Director Paul Prodonovich said a property owner needs a special exception from the Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals in order to have a shooting range. The range must be 1,000 feet from all property lines, which was not the case with Shifflet's range, Prodonovich said.

True, who owns land surrounding most of Shifflet's property, said his property line at 14002 Heavenly Acres Ridge is about 12 feet from the side of the range.

True complained about the range to the permits department on April 23. An inspector went to the site the next day and left a notice saying the property was in violation of the county code and the range should not be used.

Shifflet said he stopped using the range after learning he had violated the Washington County Zoning Ordinance.

"No one knew there was any type of ordinance like that in effect," said Shifflet.

Before contacting the permits department, True called Sheriff Charles Mades to express concern about the safety of the firing range.

Mades sent Sgt. Mark Faith to investigate. Faith did not see any problems with the range and did not think it was unsafe, Mades said.

Mades said Shifflet didn't know there were county rules about ranges, and had done nothing wrong.

Mades said he was unaware of the range until True called. The range was not sanctioned by the department.

Mades and Shifflet said they do not know of any other deputies shooting on their own property.

True said he called Maryland State Police about the range and a trooper told him there was nothing wrong or illegal about the range. The trooper suggested he inform the Shifletts when he would be in the woods on his own land, True said.

State Police Lt. Greg Johnston, the Hagerstown barrack commander, said the department would not respond to comments made by True because they first appeared as a letter to the editor and the matter has been resolved.

True said he has found bullets on his property which he believed came from the range. He said bullets flew past his head while he was hunting for mushrooms on his property on April 19.

Shifflet denied his range was the source of the bullets on April 19. He said any bullets True has found may have come from hunters True allows on his property.

True said there is no hunting on his property and the bullets could not have come from hunters.

Shifflet said that when using the range, he stood on an elevation and shot downhill at a distance of 7 yards from a target. The target was on a stump 2 feet in diameter, and behind the stump was a pile of wood covered with dirt, he said.

Even if bullets had gone past the stump, they would have landed in the wood and dirt pile and not left his property, he said.

True said there are bullet holes in a tree behind the pile.

True said other deputies also used the range. Shifflet denied that was the case.

Shifflet said the complaint is the result of an ongoing neighbor dispute between True and Shifflet's father, William. True denied that was the case.

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