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Defendant contests charges after videotaping police while armed

By Joe Beck

Andrew Charles Studds insists he wasn't doing anything wrong when he videotaped Front Royal police while carrying a holstered gun on his right hip as they conducted traffic stops a few weeks ago.

The police and prosecutors think otherwise, and now Studds is facing two charges of possession of a firearm by a person involuntarily admitted to a mental institution.

Studds, 27, of 418 Cherrydale Ave., Front Royal, was released on $1,000 secured bail Tuesday following a hearing before Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp. Studds had been in jail since his arrest on May 9.

Studds' defense attorney, Eric Wiseley, said the prosecution has no case against his client and demanded the charges be dismissed or that he be released from jail on a recognizance bond.

Wiseley said Studds' actions were not something he would personally engage in, but the defendant was exercising legitimate rights of firearm possession and free speech under the Virginia constitution. The police were wrong to arrest Studds, even if they found it unsettling to be videotaped by someone carrying a gun.

"He makes them nervous," Wiseley told Hupp. "The police are made nervous by this man."

Criminal complaints against Studds written by Detective K.D. Nicewarner state that he saw Studds standing in the roadway of the 400 block of Cherrydale Avenue on May 9.

"At the time, Mr. Studds was observed armed with holstered handgun on his right hip and currently had an active warrant for possession of a firearm by a person involuntarily admitted" to a mental institution, Nicewarner said.

Nicewarner wrote that he had earlier investigated Studds' background after questioning him on April 25 as he videotaped police conducting traffic stops "and other law enforcement" activity. Studds also was carrying a holstered handgun during the April 25 incident, according to the complaint.

Police did not arrest Studds during the April 25 incident, but a follow up investigation revealed that he underwent a mental health evaluation at Northwestern Community Services in Front Royal on Jan. 17 and "subsequently accepted voluntary treatment at a mental health facility in Petersburg." Studds was later admitted involuntarily to the same facility, identified in court documents as Poplar Springs Hospital.

The complaint states that Studds' right to possess a gun was never reinstated following his release from Poplar Springs.

In arguing for his client's release on bail, Wiseley told Hupp that his client was no threat to police or anyone else and never been in serious trouble with the law until earlier this month.

"This a man who's never had a criminal charge against him," Wiseley said. "He's never spent a night in jail."

Wiseley said the temporary detention order confining his client to Poplar Springs did not constitute a legal basis for denying someone the right to carry a handgun. He also stated that Studds had spoken to several law enforcement officials after his release from the hospital. All of those he spoke to left him with the impression that he had a right to carry a handgun, Wiseley said.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Bryan Layton said in an interview Thursday that the prosecution is waiting to receive additional documents related to Studds' mental health problems.

"Like any other medical records, there are hoops you have to jump through for those," Layton said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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