Sgt. Ray Hughes, 46, is a corrections officer in Pennsylvania. While returning from a night out with his wife in nearby Atlantic City, their car was hit by a drunk driver speeding through a traffic light. Although Hughes was a victim in this incident, he now faces the nightmare of a felony charge for the firearm that he was carrying on his person! It’s just the latest in a long string of miscarriages of justice that characterize New Jersey’s gun control regime.
“I cross the bridge, all of the sudden my personal carry permit and the fact that I’m a corrections officer and former police officer doesn’t matter?”
Hughes says that the police who arrived on the scene shortly after the accident quickly noticed his Fraternal Order of Police bumper sticker and his ID from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. They asked if he was carrying a gun, and he admitted that he was. Without indicating that anything was wrong, the officers relieved him of his sidearm, saying that they would secure it while he rode in an ambulance to the hospital to have his injuries attended to.
I asked Ray Hughes if he was aware at this point that possession of a firearm had gotten him in trouble with the law. “I honestly believed that I was getting it back!” he exclaimed. “I had no idea that I was going to be facing charges that night.” “I have no way to protect myself and my loved ones,” he says. “They’re trying to reduce me to the people that I take care of and watch in the prisons. I’m not a felon.” – Sgt. Ray Hughes
Hughes was back home in Pennsylvania with his wife Denise when he was notified by phone call that he was being charged with a class 2 felony for unlawful possession of a firearm. The officer on the scene was apologetic, saying that he had no desire to file the charge but had been pressured into it by the prosecutor handling the case. Hughes says that he has visited New Jersey countless times in the past without bringing his sidearm; in this instance he simply forgot to leave it at home. But while he freely admits to making a mistake, he is appalled at the prospect of facing the future as a convicted felon.
“We were victims. We were hit by a drunk driver,” says Denise Hughes. “And we went from being the victim to my husband being a criminal. That’s just insane to me. We’re not lawbreakers!”
While his long-term prospects are frightening, Hughes is also dealing with the difficulty of living as a law enforcement officer—with people potentially holding grudges against him—and not being able to own a firearm. “I have no way to protect myself and my loved ones,” he says. “They’re trying to reduce me to the people that I take care of and watch in the prisons. I’m not a felon.” The cruelest irony? He says that the woman who blew through a red light and hit his vehicle is facing a lesser charge than he is.
But what about the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA), a federal law designed to protect armed officers from this exact type of trouble? It turns out that Hughes has been excluded from legal exemption because of a technicality. In order for LEOSA to apply, the language of the law states that the officer must possess “statutory powers of arrest,” which corrections officers in Pennsylvania are not considered to have. Essentially, Sgt. Ray Hughes is facing a felony charge because of semantics.
“This has really wiped me out financially,” he complains. “And if I am charged with a felony, even if I get the pretrial intervention, I still lose my job and lose my career. My job had no choice but to suspend me; I don’t believe they wanted to.”
It’s not even just his career. Having this on his record could destroy even more of the things he loves in life. “Losing my right to vote, losing my right to travel out of the country—I’m a former high school football coach. I can’t coach high school football if I have a felony charge.”
Hughes is still hoping for some sanity from the state of New Jersey, but there appears to be little chance that anyone in the bureaucratic machine will have mercy on him. “We’re not anybody to them,” says Denise bitterly. “We’re just names on paper.”