Wood County homeowners call gun club a safety hazard - WBOY.com: Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Wood County homeowners call gun club a safety hazard

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Wood County commissioners are squarely in the middle of a dispute between the owner of a private shooting range and a homeowner's group that doesn't like it as a neighbor.

The Sundowner Association, doing business as the Sundowner Gun Club, and owner Kendall Richards have gone to U.S. District Court in Huntington over a 30-day "cease-and-desist" order issued by the Wood County Commission Dec. 16 in response to complaints logged over the past two years by members of the Wildwood Homeowners Association.

The Homeowners Association has been named as a co-defendant, along with Wood County Prosecutor Jason Wharton and Sheriff Ken Merritt, the three commissioners and unnamed members of the Wildwood group.

The homeowners claim the gun range poses a safety hazard, alleging multiple members have found spent bullets perilously close to people, buildings and even propane tanks on their property, and collecting baggies full of them. The homeowners have met with commissioners several times to discuss their concerns, filing more than 30 complaints with the sheriff's department.

Homeowners Association President Steve Mahaffey recently declined to comment on the situation because the organization was named in the complaint. Wharton could not be reached for comment and on the advice of counsel, commissioners were not able to discuss the case.

The county's 30-day order expired Jan. 16.

Richards referred questions to his attorney, James Tinney of the Tinney Law Firm in Charleston, but insisted he's "taken every step possible to make the range safer," including some upgrades, such as the "blue sky" system. "Blue sky" is a safety measure intended to make it impossible for someone to shoot up in the air. Richards said that means there shouldn't be any errrant bullets travelling into populated areas.

He said the shooting range also has a video surveillance system. His customers, many of them active or retired law enforcement or military, also are required to log in and out, making it easier to match slugs to the weapon that fired them. He said the gate is locked and alcohol is not allowed.

"We are 100 percent a safe range. nobody has ever shot anybody else's property. there's no legal action to substantiate their claims," he said. "We have a surveillance system. everybody has to log in and log out. we're doing things nobody else in the county does."

The lawsuit claims Richards was denied his right to due process since he was never notified in writing of the procedure commissioners were following, wasn't notified commissioners were contemplating a shut-down order and he'd been denied the right to judicial review prior to its implementation. It also contends that he was threatened with arrest and imprisonment if he violated the order "despite never receiving any legal documentation that his otherwise lawful conduct had been ruled a crime in Wood County."

The suit also suggests the nearly two years that passed since the commission's tour of the gun range "undermines (the) claim that the range presents an imminent health threat."

Richards insists the county "didn't have a right to close me down. they stepped outside their rights as a county commission in shutting me down."

"I feel in court we'll have no problem proving that," he said. "I'm a law abiding citizen. I'm not looking for harassment. I'm not looking for any of this. They came knocking on my door."