Summit County’s Justice Court has concluded the case of a defendant who made news more than a year ago—when he brandished a handgun in the field between Park City High and McPolin Elementary.
After a bench trial was conducted this fall, Justice Court Judge Shauna Kerr found the man Guilty of Disorderly Conduct, an infraction. She sentenced the man with a fine, and ordered him to, again, go through a concealed-firearms course.
The charge in Justice Court was brought against 47-year-old Ningnan Li, after the incident on a Tuesday morning, November 14th of last year.
In the bench trial, Assistant Park City Prosecutor Tricia Lake said that a student saw Li practicing his draw and notified 9-1-1.
“After law enforcement was called, we had three law enforcement agencies respond. Every available officer within the Park City Police Department responded. Four schools were placed on lockdown. The defendant has acknowledged that he pulled the firearm. In fact, he acknowledged to law enforcement that when he believed he saw someone, he put the firearm away. That demonstrates, along with the defendants acknowledged training in concealed carry and gun safety courses, he knew the behavior was alarming.”
She said it’s an offense that has to be taken seriously, in an age when school shootings are frequently making headlines.
“Your honor, in today’s culture, the post-columbine era there is simply no room for error when it comes to firearms. Any overt action taken with a gun that is not in self-defense on school grounds is threatening behavior. It is going to cause alarm. It is going to cause the exact result that happened on this day.”
In reply, the defendant’s attorney, Aaron Tarin, said that Li had been careful to check that no one was around when he pulled out his handgun. He said his client certainly didn’t want to cause alarm, at a school where he’s regularly involved as a parent.
“Mr. Li is very familiar with the school. He knows the hours, he goes he volunteers. He knows those kids are going to be in class, and in fact they are. He doesn’t walk out into the parking lot and start drawing, no he walks on his way home like he’s done many times in the past, like he’s most likely seen in the past that no one is around. In fact, no one is supposed to be around, except for this day it just happened that a high school student showed up late and ran out of parking. So, he parked at the wrong parking lot and just happened to walk across and see Mr. Li. This is critical, because Mr. Li sees this person see him.”
Tarin said when Li realized that he was being observed, he immediately put his gun away and left the scene.
The attorney said maybe his client’s behavior wasn’t smart. But it could be considered criminal negligence, at most, and didn’t rise to the level of reckless behavior under the criminal statute.
“He just dropped his kids off at school. A school he loves, and he volunteers at. People think highly of him there. His intent was to be a protective type guy who was going to be one of the good guys if something ever went down. Now, whether or not that’s healthy, that’s smart or helpful doesn’t really matter. What we need to focus in on is the language in the statute. We don’t have any reason not to believe Mr. Li. His testimony has been credible, it’s been corroborated I don’t think the facts are really in dispute here. We just have to interpret him. He looks around several times, he doesn’t want to freak anybody out that’s the last thing he wants to do. He walks out into a field, nobody else is around.”
In handing down her ruling, Judge Kerr said the case is an unfortunate event.
“The defendant has both here today and in his statements to the officers indicated that he studied hard and understood the rules with regards to his concealed carry and his hunter’s safety, his firearms training. The training itself basically says that drawing a gun may result in threatening behavior and cause alarm to folks. He acknowledged here in cross examination that he understood that language.”
Judge Kerr said there is no place on school grounds for reckless behavior, or for practice draws.
“The issue is, did he intend to do that? I don’t think he intended to do that, but I think that his behavior recklessly caused that by engaging in a threatening behavior. All of that other stuff aside, pulling a weapon even if you’re just practicing a draw at a school ground during school hours is a threatening behavior in my interpretation of the facts in any and all situations. I cannot envision a place or a time where it is appropriate to draw a weapon on a school ground unless it is immediate addressing a threat.”
Judge Shauna Kerr, who did commend the defendant for being honest and cooperative with officers. She said the incident could have been a lot worse.
The court file for Li shows that he has paid the fine, of $150, and has completed another firearms course, with certification provided to the court.