Posted at: 05/23/2013 11:48 PM
By: Dan Levy
NEW LEBANON - A Dutchess County man is officially off the hook regardless of whether he did or didn't violate the New York SAFE Act.
Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka on Thursday told a New Lebanon town judge he's refusing to prosecute the case against 31-year-old Gregory Dean.
Columbia County thus becomes the first county in New York to have its district attorney refuse to prosecute a gun law violation.
Outside the courthouse Thursday afternoon, Czajka, a former state judge, was being hailed a hero by opponents of the SAFE Act who had gathered to protest Dean's arrest.
Originally pulled over because of a burned out light bulb over his license plate and also charged with driving with a suspended license, Dean wound up in the media spotlight because state police say the legally registered Smith and Wesson semi-automatic .40 caliber handgun they found in his car had nine bullets in it, two bullets over the legal limited outlined in the New York SAFE Act.
"I'm glad it drew media attention," said Jonna Spilbor, Dean's attorney. "The SAFE Act is something that I think many of us are up in arms about."
"I make no blanket policy with respect to this crime or any other," Czajka said.
In other words, whether to prosecute future cases, Czjaka insists, will be determined on the individual merits of those cases.
"I think what the DA just did in there was not only a classy move but he took the legs out of the SAFE Act for the moment for this particular case," Spilbor asserted.
"I think it's going to send a message to Albany," said Ed Kahle, one of about a dozen protestors outside the courthouse.
Kahle says the grass roots movement seeking repeal of the SAFE Act gained significant traction on Thursday.
"I think we're setting the stage for people to start coming forward and saying, 'Hey, we have to take control of our government, it's our government,'" Kahle continued.
Joanna Johnson-Smith, the New York organizer for Gun Rights Across American, concurs.
"This is a very good day, a very good day, a very good step and we're never going to give up. We're just never going to stop," Johnson-Smith added.
When asked if he thinks he broke any laws, Dean responded with a quick no comment.
Dean also pleaded not guilty to the most serious remaining charge against him -- aggravated unlicensed operation. Czajka offered to reduce that charge from a misdemeanor to a violation, but Dean declined the offer, vowing instead to fight that charge vehemently. He's due back in court on June 13.