Over 500 firearms have been returned to a California FFL dealer and his family after a lengthy battle with the California Department of Justice (DOJ).
Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jonathan Conklin ordered in December that the guns be turned over to the Fresno firearms dealer on behalf of the family. The state has since complied with that order.
California’s DOJ arrested Albert Sheakalee and seized 541 firearms in a highly publicized sting in 2015. According to a press release from then-Attorney General Kamala Harris, Shekalee was arrested “due to a prior mental health hold,” which prohibited him from owning firearms and allegedly landed him in the state’s Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS) database.
But the state never filed any charges. After receiving national media attention—including a press conference displaying all 541 guns—the case never moved forward.
“As far as I am concerned, it was a real political deal,” Sheakalee’s attorney, Mark Coleman, told the Fresno Bee. “(California Attorney General Kamala) Harris was running for senator.”
Harris, who won her Senate seat last November, said in 2015 that “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.”
Perhaps the state decided not to file charges when they realized Sheakalee had no criminal record, legally owned all his firearms, owned a retirement home, and was the retired budget director of Fresno Community Hospital.
In any case, while Sheakalee wouldn’t face jail time, he and his family weren’t able to get their guns back until they went to court. Sheakalee was notified in July 2016 that he would not face charges and told to contact the DOJ about returning his property. After contacting multiple DOJ agents without success, Agent Isaias Rivera finally informed Sheakalee that his weapons would not be returned.
Coleman argued in court (and proved using postal records) that the state didn’t notify Sheakalee of his ineligibility to own firearms until after the raid took place. Coleman also noted that the DOJ broke a promise to Sheakalee to keep the raid confidential until a court hearing determined whether he was mentally fit to own guns.
“The problem is with the way (the guns were seized),” Coleman told the Bee. “This has been a pretty traumatic experience for the family.”
All of Sheakalee’s firearms have been returned to him and his family, including 209 handguns, 88 shotguns, 234 rifles, 100,000 rounds of ammunition and 10 guns designated assault weapons under California law, including a .50 caliber bolt-action rifle.
While Sheakalee’s victory is cause to celebrate, misapplied prohibitions against firearms ownership for the mentally incompetent will continue to be a battle for the pro-gun community.
As Coleman pointed out to the Bee, targeting those seeking mental health care is “going to result in people refusing to seek mental health treatment” because they do not want to be in a database, causing “an incredible chilling effect.”