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Lawyer: DOJ violated Clovis gun collector’s constitutional rights

More than 500 firearms were seized by state agents from Albert Sheakalee, 59, of Clovis.
More than 500 firearms were seized by state agents from Albert Sheakalee, 59, of Clovis. California Department of Justice

A Clovis gun collector who had more than 500 firearms taken from him by the California Department of Justice didn’t even know he was in a law enforcement database that prohibits him from having guns until agents showed up at his home, his lawyer said Thursday.

DOJ agents also broke a promise to Albert Sheakalee, said Fresno attorney Mark Coleman, who is representing Sheakalee.

Coleman said agents promised to keep the raid on Sheakalee’s home confidential until after a court hearing to determine whether he is mentally fit to own guns.

Instead, Attorney General Kamala Harris issued a news release about the raid, and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office released Sheakalee’s name and booking mug to the media.

A day after the raid made news across the state, Coleman accused the Justice Department of violating his client’s Second Amendment right to own firearms. He also said the DOJ violated Sheakalee’s right to due process by not giving him a chance to clear up any issue regarding his mental health before the raid.

The raid, Coleman said, “brings to light the inadequacies in safeguards for gun owners and the insensitive, cavalier attitudes of governmental agencies toward mental health patients.”

He isn’t alone in his complaints.

A local gun advocate said the raid will have far-reaching repercussions. “I can see it having a chilling effect on people, especially veterans of war, who might want to seek mental health treatment, but won’t because they fear they will lose their right to own guns,” said Ronald Sawl, an attorney who owns The Range Pistol Club in northwest Fresno.

After the 12-hour raid of his home, Sheakalee, 59, was arrested Nov. 12 for illegally possessing firearms. He was released from jail after posting $11,000 bail.

As of Thursday, Sheakalee, who has no prior criminal history, has not been charged, according to Fresno County Superior Court records.

I can see it having a chilling effect on people, especially veterans of war, who might want to seek mental health treatment but won’t because they fear they will lose their right to own guns.

Ronald Sawl, owner of The Range Pistol Club in northwest Fresno

The DOJ said Sheakalee is in an Armed & Prohibited Persons System (APPS) database due to a prior mental health hold, which prohibits an individual from possessing firearms.

In the attorney general’s news release, Harris said DOJ agents went to Sheakalee’s home and seized 209 handguns, 88 shotguns, 234 rifles, 181 standard capacity magazines, 10 high capacity magazines, 100,521 rounds of various ammunition and 10 assault weapons, including a .50 caliber bolt-action rifle.

“Removing firearms from dangerous and violent individuals who pose a threat to themselves and the public is a top priority for the California Department of Justice,” Harris said in the news release. “I thank our Bureau of Firearms special agents for their bravery in carrying out these dangerous investigations and their commitment to keeping our communities safe.”

But Coleman said the vast majority of the seized firearms were bolt-action rifles, hunting shotguns and legal handguns. The few assault-type weapons were registered with the DOJ, he said.

The firearms were kept in safes in a locked room that had an alarm system, Coleman said.

“Not only has he been publicly embarrassed, he and his family have received threats,” Coleman said.

And it’s because Harris wants to promote her image among anti-gun supporters at Sheakalee’s expense, the lawyer said.

“It’s politics. She wants to be senator,” he said.

But Harris’ press secretary, Kristin Ford, said, “A case of this magnitude requires the public be notified, as a matter of transparency and trust.”

She also said the DOJ never disclosed Sheakalee’s identity: “The individual arrested was in the APPS database as a result of being taken into custody under Welfare and Institutions Code 5150.”

In general, any person taken into custody as a danger to self or others under Welfare and Institutions Code section 5150, assessed under Welfare and Institutions Code section 5151, and admitted to a mental health facility under Welfare and Institutions Code section 5151 is prohibited from owning a firearm. And when an individual is ruled to be dangerous under section 5150 by a judge, the court advises the individual of the implications, which includes being prohibited from owning guns or ammunition.

“It is a false choice to believe we must pick between public safety and ensuring access to mental health services – one should not come at the price of the other,” Ford said.

According to Coleman, in the summer of 2015, Sheakalee went through a stressful time and sought treatment. “He has never been adjudicated as any sort of threat to anyone,” Coleman said. “And despite his desire to find help, Sheakalee found himself on a government list which the Department of Justice claims denies him the right to own firearms.”

Sawl said he has talked to war veterans who would like mental health counseling but fear they will be reported by their doctors.

He said the attorney general’s broadcasting of Sheakalee’s mental health issues “is unfortunate and counterproductive.”

A case of this magnitude requires the public be notified, as a matter of transparency and trust.

Kristin Ford, press secretary for Attorney General Kamala Harris

The APPS works to identify individuals who procured firearms but later became barred from legally owning them because they were convicted of a felony or a violent misdemeanor, placed under a domestic violence restraining order, or suffer from serious mental illness. California is the first and only state to establish an automated system for tracking handgun and assault weapon owners who might fall into a prohibited status.

As attorney general, Harris has been at the forefront of gun control, sponsoring legislation in 2011 that allows the Department of Justice to use fees collected by gun dealers to fund the APPS program. In the last two years, the Department of Justice has doubled the average number of guns seized annually and increased the number of investigations per month by nearly 300 percent, allowing special agents to conduct 17,465 investigations as of Oct. 30, 2015, the news release said.

Coleman said he understands the intent of the APPS system, but Sheakalee does not belong in it. “The accusations (that he’s a danger) are ridiculous, and he and his family have received threats because of it,” he said.

“Sheakalee was not afforded the right to any hearing before being placed on this list,” Coleman said.

Sheakalee and his wife, Lorik, are owners of the Green Gables Care Home in Clovis. The business has an A-plus rating from the Better Business Bureau.

They are Christian Iranian refugees who came to America in the late 1970s to escape religious persecution when the Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers turned Iran into the world’s first Islamic republic.

“They had to leave because they are strong supporters of the United States,” which backed the Shah of Iran, who was overthrown, Coleman said.

Albert Sheakalee and his wife were granted asylum in America. He went to college in Pennsylvania and earned a degree in accounting. In December 1988, Sheakalee and his wife became U.S. citizens, Coleman said.

The following year, the then-Fresno Community Hospital recruited Sheakalee, Coleman said. Sheakalee rose through the ranks and retired in 2002 as budget director of the hospital’s health care department, Coleman said.

Coleman said Sheakalee has had a federal firearms license since the early 1990s. The license allows him to sell and trade firearms under strict guidelines by the state DOJ and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Coleman said Sheakalee believes his license is still valid.

Regardless, a U.S. citizen does not need a federal firearms license to collect guns, he said. Sheakalee collects guns as an investment; firearms increase in value over time, Coleman said.

“He and his family have been law-abiding citizens all of their lives,” Coleman said. “This all could have been avoided if the DOJ had just called him up and talked to him. He would have surrendered his guns and let due process play out. Instead, they had to embarrass him and his family in front of his neighbors.”

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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