Charged with “Trespassing” for walking into a public courthouse (Defiant Trespass and Disorderly Conduct, 3rd Degree Misdemeanor), Hobson McKown has been locked up since August 12th 2016, with no idea of when he will be released or why he is even being held, despite his bail being posted and no official documents being filed ordering his continued incarceration.
Currently being held in the Centre County Correctional Facility in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, many say McKown’s detention is an act of retaliation against him for his conduct in trying to expose illegal acts committed by public officials, his protest against unconstitutional checkpoints, and his legal challenges to unconstitutional Pennsylvania gun “laws”.
To fully understand the situation, we must understand what transpired in the previous eight years.
Hobson McKown is best known for his legal challenge to the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s laws regarding carry of firearms. He believes that requiring a License to Carry Firearms (LTCF) is unconstitutional in that it violates the Pennsylvania Declaration of Rights (Sections 1, 21, and 25) as well as the Second Amendment, and attempted to take these arguments to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
He began this legal quest after his arrest in 2008 when he was arrested for carrying a concealed firearm after Centre County Sheriff Dennis Nau allegedly revoked McKown’s LTCF. McKown believes that the revocation was unlawful, due to Sheriff Nau not listing a statutory reason for the revocation on the notice. Nau supposedly revoked the license after finding out about allegations against McKown (he was later found to be not guilty of these charges). Additionally, McKown held a valid and lawfully issued New Hampshire carry permit at the time, a state with which Pennsylvania has a reciprocity agreement.
McKown appealed this case to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, and ultimately appealed to the Supreme Court, but they declined to hear the case. The lower courts did not adequately consider the constitutional issues raised by McKown and also set a dangerous precedent by ruling that out-of-state concealed carry permits are not accepted in Pennsylvania if the carrier is a Pennsylvania resident who does not have a PA-issued LTCF. (This is not specified in PA law or in reciprocity agreements, so it could affect PA residents who obtained their LTCF from another state).
Thus, after exhausting his appeals to his 2008 gun case, McKown began serving his two year probation sentence in Centre County, PA on August 15, 2014. However, McKown has suffered injustice several other times.
In 2008, following McKown’s arrest for unlicensed carry of firearms, the judge imposed, as part of his bail conditions that he must not possess firearms, and that he must surrender all firearms in his possession to the county sheriff. McKown was not given any opportunity to give the firearms to a third party for safekeeping or to transfer the firearms (most individuals are given this opportunity). McKown signed the bail conditions, pursuant to an explanation by his lawyer that he would be able to make arrangements to drop the firearms off at the Sheriff’s office.
Instead, within an hour of McKown signing the bail conditions, despite no search warrant having been issued, Sheriff Nau ordered his deputies to go to McKown’s residence to take the firearms. When they met McKown at his home and demanded to enter, McKown adamantly stated that he did not consent, but the deputies removed the keys from his pocket and let themselves in. At the door, the first thing they saw was a sign stating “I do not consent to this search or seizure,” which they ignored. Once in, the deputies alleged that there were bomb-making materials inside, and called for backup. An officer from the Penn State Bomb Squad arrived to clear the residence. At this point, officers allege that they found “contraband”. Only at this point did they actually seek and obtain a search warrant. (No bombs or bomb-making materials were found, but deputies made off with several guns, ammunition, knives, toy crossbows, and some cash).
The Superior Court later ruled that this was an illegal entry and search, and ordered the release of all non-firearms that were still being held by the Sherriff’s office. The police and deputies that committed this act faced no punishment, despite some of the officers providing the district attorney with handwritten confessions of their crimes.
A good deal of McKown’s time was spent in various courthouses and government buildings across the state, as he was engaged in real-estate research for his business, as well as his on-going legal research.
McKown began investigating the security arrays which are common at the entrances to many, but not all, Pennsylvania county courthouses. McKown believes that the security procedures are unconstitutional, as they expose all people entering to warrant-less and suspicion-less searches. While Pennsylvania law bans firearms in court facilities, the security arrays are often placed at a common entrance to many non-court related offices, subjecting people to searches even if they are not going to the courts. No act of the General Assembly has provided for courthouse checkpoints, and no act has authorized sheriffs to operate any such checkpoints.
At one such security array, in the Butler County Government Center, McKown openly carried a firearm and asked the deputies there to locker the gun, as Pennsylvania law under Section 913 allows those carrying guns to place them in lockers at the entrance to court facilities. Initially there was not a problem, and the gun was locked up in accordance with the law. However, after peacefully allowing McKown to enter, the Chief Deputy began to confront McKown about the gun, and charged him with Disorderly Conduct.
McKown argued that the description of the offense, in that a man openly carried a firearm at the public entrance to the courthouse, does not describe any crime in the Commonwealth. As the constitution guarantees the rights of citizens to possess property and that the right to possess firearms for their own defense shall not be questioned, a man simply carrying a firearm in a peaceable fashion in a public place is not an offence at all. McKown was denied justice in this case as well. Even though the court had the incident recorded on video and McKown was not acting in a violent or disorderly fashion, deputies testified he could have caused a dangerous situation. That the judge found him guilty in this case shows that anyone carrying a gun in that place (where guns are allowed to be carried), could face trouble at the whims of the sheriff’s deputies.
Finally, on August 12th, 2016, with his Centre County probation due to be completed in just a few days, McKown went to the Centre County Sheriff’s Office to inquire about his firearms that were still being held by the Sheriff’s office since 2008. He wanted to make arrangements with them to release the firearms, either to himself or a third person, as there would no longer be any requirement for the Sheriff to hold the guns after his probation had been served.
At this time, it appears that the Sheriff’s office staff became concerned that McKown may be recording the conversation, and told him he could not do that, even though he was in a public lobby. McKown then later entered the courthouse, which is about 100 yards from the Sheriff’s office. A deputy at the security array at the entrance began to accost him upon his entrance, despite a lack of any clear wrongdoing on McKown’s part, so McKown decided to leave the premises. McKown had never been told prior to this point that he wasn’t allowed to be in the courthouse. Officers from the Bellefonte police department later apprehended McKown outside for his alleged trespass and disorderly conduct.
Since then, McKown has been held in the Centre County Correctional facility. Officials claim that a detainer from probation is keeping him there, despite the fact that he has not been served with a notice of detainer, and no record of this detainer can be found in his docket sheet. The AOPC docket shows no bench warrant. The bench warrant, issued for the probation violation, can only be found by going to the prothonotary’s office, although that warrant was not even followed, as it ordered him to be taken before the Court of Common Pleas, and the warrant was never returned (McKown was not taken to the court, but instead put straight in jail).
Additionally, the court dockets show that his bail has been posted, and includes an order from a judge that states that he can be released from jail. This order was signed by the judge on the same day as the bench warrant. Dockets show “confinement reason” as “
McKown appears to be stuck in jail until he gets a trial for this alleged trespassing incident, which has already been delayed by the prosecution refusing to release the courthouse video, which would contradict assertions by sheriffs and police chief. Officials seem content to maximize the amount of time he has to sit and wait until he is allowed to prove his innocence, while refusing to explain why he is being held; in other words it is an indefinite detention.
McKown can be contacted in jail by writing to: Hobson McKown - 16-1028, Centre County Correctional Facility,700 Rishel Hill Road, Bellefonte PA 16823-1488. Those who would like to support McKown may write to: Hobson McKown c/o Free Hobson, PO Box 798, State College PA 16804-0798.