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Craig Mastantuono Nov. 30, 2012

No Charges Against Woman Who Brought Gun to Church:Open-Carry Activist Won’t Be Cited For Carrying Loaded Firearm in VehicleJuly 20, 2010By Bruce Vielmetti, Journal Sentinel

Waukesha County prosecutors have decided not to cite a woman who wore a gun into a Brookfield church and had the loaded weapon inside her car when police stopped her a short time later.

Krysta Sutterfield, 41, of Milwaukee was arrested July 4 after she wore the gun to services at the Unitarian Universalist Church West in Brookfield that morning. She never took the gun from its holster or acted in any menacing way, but afterward some church staff called Brookfield police for clarification about Sutterfield’s right to openly carry a firearm.

Several squad cars quickly responded, but by then Sutterfield was leaving in her car. Police pulled her over and found that she had the gun, still loaded, inside a zippered case on the passenger seat. Wisconsin law requires all guns to be unloaded and encased during transport in a vehicle. Police handcuffed Sutterfield, processed her at the station, released her and referred the matter to prosecutors, suggesting that she be ticketed for having the loaded gun in her car.

In a letter to police released to the public Tuesday, Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel explained that while Sutterfield did violate the letter of the firearm transport law, he was not going to issue the ticket, for several reasons.

For one, he said, Sutterfield had no bad intent. She had worn the gun to church services peacefully and was never asked to remove it or leave. She told investigators that a salesperson where she had purchased the 9mm handgun had explained to her that it only needed to be in a case when she was driving.

Further, Schimel wrote, the statute in question, which is a non-criminal infraction that carries a maximum forfeiture of $100, was passed before the Wisconsin Constitution was amended to clearly specify residents’ rights to keep guns for various purposes. He said he did not think the facts of Sutterfield’s case made it the right one to prosecute in an effort to set the limits of gun restrictions.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has held that the state’s ban on concealed weapons did not apply to a shop owner in Milwaukee who had a gun to protect his business, which had been robbed at gunpoint many times. But it also upheld the concealed-carry conviction of a passenger who had two loaded guns in a car.

Schimel noted that the latter case, however, did not address whether the constitutional amendment might protect someone carrying a loaded gun in his or her own car for protection.

“Given all the circumstances in this case, I do not believe this is the case to test the outer reaches of the application of the CCW statute in light of the constitutional amendment,” Schimel wrote.

Lastly, Schimel noted, Sutterfield might well be able to challenge the legality of her stop by police because she had done nothing illegal at the church and police had no separate reason to suspect that she was transporting the gun while loaded in violation of the state statute. If the stop was not legal, the evidence of the loaded gun would not be admissible.

But Schimel did not fault Brookfield police for their aggressive reaction to the situation, given the limited information they had at the time, especially in light of the history of the 2005 shooting that killed eight people at a church service at a Brookfield hotel.

“The officer needed to freeze the situation to find out more information while preventing the suspect from leaving and while ensuring the safety of himself and other citizens,” Schimel wrote. “It is my opinion that the steps he took would be considered reasonable under all of the circumstances.”

Sutterfield’s attorney, Rebecca Coffee, said her client, who has no criminal history, was relieved.

“I appreciate that Mr. Schimel has given some very reasoned and thoughtful explanation of what he did, and I agree with him,” Coffee said.

She said she will next work on getting Sutterfield’s gun, which was seized at the time of her arrest, returned to her.

Officials at the church, 13001 W. North Ave., have since posted signs at the entrances stating guns are prohibited. The congregation’s president said earlier that Sutterfield is welcome to return, just not with her gun.