The state is taking the Board of Firearm Permit Examiners to court, claiming the group took “clearly erroneous” steps when it decided to conditionally reinstate the pistol permit of a Norwalk man.
In a lawsuit filed June 24, the Attorney General’s Office asked New Britain Superior Court to reverse a decision by the board to restore the pistol permit of Glenn Pennell, a Norwalk resident whose permit was revoked following a December 2011 incident involving police.
According to the lawsuit, emergency responders were called to Pennell’s home by his wife. She claimed her husband, who has epilepsy, was suffering from depression and had experienced a seizure. When she arrived at the home, the wife told responders her husband had not been taking his medication and was very depressed.
“She further reported that Mr. Pennell posted on his Facebook page that he wanted to harm himself, and that if it wasn’t for his family members being present, he would kill himself,” the complaint said.
The police officer who responded to the call retrieved a 9mm pistol from Pennell’s closet, according to the state’s complaint. Pennell then had another seizure and was taken to Norwalk Hospital.
Meanwhile, cops filed paperwork to take Pennell’s pistol permit and the handgun. A few days later, they seized the rest of the firearms in his possession and shared their files on the case with the Licensing and Firearms Unit of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. The state then revoked Pennell’s permit to carry pistols and revolvers.
Weeks after the incident, a judge ordered the confiscated firearms returned to Pennell and about a year after the incident, he appealed to the Board of Firearm Permit Examiners looking to have his permit returned as well. In May, the board decided to restore Pennell’s permit in 2014 with some limitations.
“It is the order of the Board to reinstate Mr. Pennell’s pistol permit in one year, on May 9, 2014, on the condition of the current suitability and that he hasn’t committed any offense that violates the criminal law and doesn’t have any statutory disqualifying events and at that time he presents his letter from his neurologist stating that he is seizure free,” the board stated, according to its minutes.
In the lawsuit, the state seems to take issue with the board’s entire process regarding the case. Assistant Attorney General Terrence M. O’Neill writes that the board’s findings of fact, legal conclusions, and decision were based on “unlawful procedure.”
O’Neill writes that the process was “clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative, and substantial evidence on the whole record” and “arbitrary or capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion.”
The lawsuit contends that the board does not have the authority to reinstate a pistol permit at some future time and subject to conditions. The decision conflicts with the precedent set by previous cases, the board’s own previous decisions, and the standards established for considering such appeals, the complaint said.
“The BFPE’s decision that Pennell will in the future be a ‘suitable person’ to possess a handgun permit, under the circumstances, is against the public policy of the State of Connecticut and unsupported by the administrative record,” the lawsuit said.
The complaint said the fact that the board was not willing to immediately reinstate Pennell’s permit was evidence he was not at that time suitable to be issued a permit.
The board posted an audio recording of Pennell’s hearing on its website. During the hearing members of the board hear from the police officer who responded the call, who reported that emergency responders were dispatched to Pennell’s residence three times since the initial call for seizures.
Pennell’s wife, Tammy, was questioned at length during the hearing by the board and the state. In her testimony, she seemed to blame herself for the several-day argument that led to her calling the police to their home. She said her husband should be permitted to carry firearms.
“It’s basically my fault that we’re sitting here right now and if I could go back and do it again, I wouldn’t,” she said.
Citing Pennell’s history of seizures and evidence of depression, State Police Sgt. Paolo D’Alessandro asked the board to uphold the state’s revocation of the pistol permit until Pennell’s medical condition seemed more stable.
D’Alessandro also expressed concerns that reports indicated Pennell admitted to using marijuana daily for medical reasons. Pennell and his wife both denied the claim, saying he was overwhelmed with questions at the time he stated that.
In the recording, members of the board can be heard remarking that they were in “uncharted territory” returning Pennell’s permit with new limitations but said it was a “tough case.” They considered requiring Pennell to pass a drug test before his permit was returned but ultimately dismissed the idea over concerns it would be too much of a burden. Ultimately, they voted to return his permit as long as he was seizure free for a year and did nothing else to disqualify himself.