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Judge tosses charges in WCCC concealed weapon case

Renatta Signorini
| Tuesday, March 28, 2017, 5:03 p.m.

A district judge dismissed a gun-related charge Tuesday against a Ligonier Township man accused of taking an unlawfully concealed firearm to Westmoreland County Community College for a dentist appointment.

District Judge L. Anthony Bompiani dismissed the case for a lack of evidence but had stern words for Thomas Foster Altman.

“If you claim to have a great respect” for the Constitution and law, “then don't come in here and make a mockery of it,” Bompiani told Altman, 66, at the conclusion of an hour-long preliminary hearing that was marked with numerous objections.

“Your case is being dismissed because I don't think the commonwealth met its burden,” Bompiani said.

Prosecutors alleged that Altman didn't have a permit to carry a concealed weapon on the Hempfield campus on Nov. 14. Assistant District Attorney Adam Barr withdrew a count of possession of a weapon on school property. A disorderly conduct charge was dismissed.

A dental hygiene student reported to police that Altman placed a holstered Kel-Tec 9mm handgun on the counter at his appointment, testified Park Police Officer Trisha Lehner. The pistol was seized by Lehner and Park Police Officer David Sargent and described by both witnesses on the stand.

“(Sargent is) postulating that it was a firearm. The witness is not qualified to make that determination,” said Altman, who did not have an attorney and lobbed numerous objections — the majority of which were overruled.

He questioned the training and oaths taken by the park police officers and whether they were United States citizens.

Many of the prosecution's objections to Altman's line of questioning were sustained.

“I object,” Altman said when one officer identified him as the man in the clinic.

“On what grounds?” Bompiani asked.

“It's not me,” Altman replied.

“Overruled,” Bompiani said.

Altman claimed Bompiani didn't have jurisdiction to hear the case and called Sargent an “alleged police officer” who stole his gun. The college campus neighbors the property where Bompiani's court office is located.

“On the record, I object to everything so far and ongoing,” Altman said.

Lehner testified that she waited with Altman at a pickup truck at the college while Sargent determined that Altman did not have a permit to carry a concealed weapon and arrested him. The holster did not have a clip or belt loop, Sargent testified.

Bompiani said he dismissed the case because prosecutors didn't show evidence that Altman had the firearm concealed.

Barr argued that the court could conclude the weapon had been concealed because Altman had to travel to get to the campus and because the holster didn't have a clip or belt loops that would allow him to openly carry it.

“Obviously, the defendant got to the dental clinic somehow,” Barr argued.

“Yeah, but that's asking the court to speculate,” Bompiani replied.

Altman completed six months in the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, or ARD, program for first-time, nonviolent offenders after police said he carried a concealed weapon into Greensburg's Social Security offices in September 2011.

Security officers at that time discovered Altman had a black Kel-Tec 9 mm handgun in his pants pocket, according to a criminal complaint. Court records show that authorities were to return the firearm after he completed the ARD program in October 2012.

Offenders who complete the program can have their records expunged.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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