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Weapons charges against man now are misdemeanors

October 27, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A student accused of repeatedly violating Blue Ridge Community and Technical College’s ban on firearms on campus was arraigned Thursday on misdemeanor charges after similar felony-level allegations filed against him were dismissed.

Joshua Lee Beck, 26, of Martinsburg, now faces two counts of violating the school’s rules limiting the possession of firearms on its premises, according to Berkeley County Magistrate Court records.

The statute under which Beck is charged gives certain individuals or entities the right to prohibit carrying — openly or concealed — any firearm on property under their domain, according to court documents.

A former Martinsburg Correctional Center officer, Beck was released on personal recognizance bonds totaling $3,500 after being arraigned Thursday by Magistrate Jim Humphrey and JoAnn Overington, according to court records.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said Thursday that the state’s felony criminal statute could not be applied in Beck’s case because colleges and other places of higher education are not included in the state code section titled “possessing deadly weapons on premises of educational facilities ...”

The felony code section in question includes an exemption for the official mascot of West Virginia University, commonly known as “The Mountaineer,” which Games-Neely said might indicate that colleges were intended to be included in the firearm prohibition.

“Why include (the mascot, who carries a rifle) in that statute if you didn’t mean post-secondary education?” Games-Neely asked.

Since the legal questions surrounding the felony charges surfaced, Games-Neely said she has contacted lawmakers about clarifying the statute, but also asked them make sure military and gunsmithing schools and programs such as ROTC, for example, are exempted.

“I support the Second Amendment, but I have some real question marks in my mind with this,” Games-Neely said.

Blue Ridge CTC officials told police that Beck was told in August about the campus ban on firearms outlined in the school’s handbook, but continued to violate the school’s policy, according to court documents.

A Blue Ridge CTC student told police that a security guard at the college had forced Beck to remove a weapon in his possession from campus, but indicated the defendant returned with the firearm the following day when they had class together, according to court documents.

The student said Beck continued to carry a weapon and “even gave a class presentation on concealed weapons while having the weapon in class,” Berkeley County Sheriff’s Lt. R.L. Gardner said in the complaint filed against Beck.

On Aug. 1, Beck allegedly told a Blue Ridge CTC instructor that the college’s head of security had given him permission to carry the weapon on campus after he was told to remove it from the school’s technical center at 5550 Winchester Ave., according to court documents.

The security officer later told police he never gave Beck such permission to carry a weapon on campus and also told the defendant that carrying a weapon onto campus is a violation of the student handbook.

Gardner later determined that Beck does have a concealed weapons permit, the documents said.

Court documents indicate Beck also allegedly violated the campus ban on firearms on Oct. 10 and 11 and was arraigned on one of the now dismissed felony charges two days later, according to court documents.

In addition to Gardner’s complaint, Martinsburg Police Patrol Officer William Parks alleges Beck left a voice message with an administrator at the college’s campus at 400 W. Stephen St., that indicates he had carried a gun into school on several occasions, according to court documents.

School officials, meanwhile, did not identify Beck earlier this month when they announced their decision to cancel classes for “a safety concern,” but did indicate they were following the code-of-conduct hearing protocol in a firearm incident.

The college canceled classes at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 13 and remained closed until Oct. 17.  

In announcing the closure, college administrators said at no time was there any active threat, but acknowledged there were incidents that indicated a “strong need” for the school to review security practices.

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