Cairo Councilman Whitaker draws firearms charges

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

The charges stem from his drunken-driving arrest in April.

Legal troubles are piling up for Cairo Councilman Bobby Whitaker, who was charged Monday with two counts of illegally possessing firearms.

The guns, a Glock handgun and a shotgun, were found in Whitaker's truck when he was pulled over for suspicion of drunken driving April 28 outside Mounds, Ill.

Whitaker was charged with DUI for failing a sobriety test. His blood-alcohol level was not released.

The two misdemeanor gun charges were filed after an investigation of whether Whitaker could legally keep guns in his car, said Grayson Gile, Pulaski County state's attorney.

Whitaker's job as council member includes duties overseeing the Cairo Police Department. The investigation of Whitaker's gun privileges revealed that those duties do not give him the legal right to have a loaded weapon with him in his car, Gile said.

"He was under the impression that as a council member serving in this capacity, he was allowed to possess and carry firearms," Gile said. "We tried to give Mr. Whitaker every benefit of the doubt."

The gun issued dogged Whitaker earlier this year as a part of a political dispute with Cairo Mayor Paul Farris. In early January, Farris sent Whitaker a letter demanding that he relinquish a city-owned gun he held as part of his oversight duties for the police department. Whitaker refused to turn over the weapon when the letter was hand-delivered by police chief John Bosecker.

At the time, Whitaker said he has the necessary training and the certificate to carry a gun.

"I am more qualified than the people he has on the streets right now," Whitaker said of the city's current police force.

In order to carry a gun legally, Whitaker would have also to be an auxiliary police officer with certified training, in uniform and on duty, Gile said.

The handgun found when Whitaker's car was searched was in the center console of his pickup truck, and the shotgun was found behind the seat, Gile said. Both were loaded.

Whitaker will be issued a summons to appear in court in Mounds City on May 18, Gile said.

Whitaker had little to say when contacted about the latest charges. "I am going to wait and let it play out," he said. "I felt I had just as much legal right as any officer out on the street."

Whitaker's lawyer, James Flummer, could not be reached for comment.

Whitaker had his state gun ownership permit with him at the time he was pulled over, Gile said. If he did not have the permit, the charges would have been felonies, he said.

A jail term isn't likely for either the gun charges or the DUI charge, Gile said. At this time, he said he expects a negotiated plea in both cases.

Whitaker will not lose his right to own firearms if he enters a guilty plea, Gile said.

"We don't want to be punitive," he said. "We are taking an educational approach, because I understand that there is a misunderstanding of what he was lawfully able to do."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611 ext. 126

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