Case dismissed against senator with gun
(10/12/05 - McALLEN, TX) -- Police said they were dismayed Tuesday that a city judge threw out their charge accusing a South Texas lawmaker of bringing a loaded handgun through airport security.
Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was found with a 9 mm handgun in his briefcase Monday afternoon as he passed through security at Miller International Airport.
Airport security discovered the weapon and police arrested Hinojosa and took him to the police department to be arraigned.
But to the chagrin of police, McAllen Municipal Court Judge Kathleen Henley dropped the charge, Police Chief Victor Rodriguez said Tuesday.
"Our impression was that he would be arraigned by Judge Henley yesterday afternoon," Rodriguez said. "To our dismay we learned that Judge Henley basically dismissed him. ... I've never seen a case basically tossed out at the arraignment point."
He said the police investigation would continue and when completed the case would be referred to federal authorities and Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra.
But Guerra said he thought Henley did the right thing.
"Nobody in their right mind would put a weapon in a briefcase that clearly has to be X-rayed at an airport," Guerra said. "If you just want to be arrested you can just take a weapon to the airport and wave it and say, 'I want to be arrested.' Some people will make innocent mistakes."
Hinojosa issued a statement late Monday saying he had made a mistake by "rushing to the airport and not checking my briefcase prior to entering the McAllen Miller International Airport." He said airport security did its job.
Hinojosa said police verified his concealed handgun permit and identity and traced the weapon before releasing him.
Calls to his office on Tuesday were not returned. Henley would not say why she dismissed the charge. A clerk outside her office said the judge said talking to reporters would "violate the code."
According to The Transportation Security Administration Web site, weapons may not be brought to security checkpoints without authorization. The TSA said bringing a weapon into a checkpoint could result in criminal or civil charges.
Rodriguez said police had charged Hinojosa with taking a weapon where it is prohibited, a third-degree felony punishable by two to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
"The laws are very specific and very clear," he said. "It's a chargeable offense even if it's done recklessly."
Texas law has a measure known as a "traveler's exception" that allows some licensed gun owners to carry a weapon while traveling.
Rodriguez said the defense would not apply to restricted places such as airports.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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