A Tippecanoe County judge ruled Friday morning that an allegedly mentally unstable defendant’s seized firearms will remain with the police department that obtained them.
Under Indiana’s “Jake Laird” law, enacted in 2005 as a result of the death of an Indianapolis police officer, officers can remove weapons from the possession of dangerous or mentally ill persons without a probable cause warrant.
Lafayette resident Cory Houston was not present to deliver testimony Friday morning, but Lafayette police officers Kent Hesher and Alex White testified as to why they seized the weapons from the defendant on Thursday.
The department received a series of calls from a friend of Houston’s asking them to check on his well-being, as he had recently lost his job and had exhibited unstable, allegedly suicidal behavior in the past. He started a Facebook fundraiser on Sunday titled "Stop Cory from being homeless." Houston filed for divorce in September, which he cited as part of the reasoning behind the fundraiser.
Houston's first encounter with White involved Houston brandishing a knife and digging around in his waistband, as if he were about to pull out a firearm. Ultimately, White said he determined the defendant wasn’t a danger to himself and left the scene.
That changed by the third encounter, officers said.
“The friend called for the third time and said Cory was walking down the street with a rifle over his shoulder,” White said.
Houston's roommate reported to both officers that the day he allegedly wandered the neighborhood with the rifle slung over his shoulder, Houston had been cleaning two of his guns when he gave her his debit card and pin number to pay his portion of the rent.
“Why would I need to pay your rent?” she reportedly asked.
“In case I’m no longer around,” Houston said.
Officer Hesher said he “believes it was an attempt to get us to kill him.” Both officers were part of the police department’s Crisis Intervention Team and opted to seize Houston’s firearms without a probable cause affidavit because they deemed him a danger to himself and others.
Indiana law mandates that if no probable cause affidavit is filed, the state has the burden to prove all material facts with “clear and convincing evidence” in a court hearing within 14 days of the offense. Houston was not present to challenge the ruling, but Judge Sean Persin said that the defendant’s mental instability was well-documented and it’s unlikely the weapons will be returned.
“The Lafayette Police Department and the court don’t want to keep his firearms, we want to keep him from doing harm to himself or others,” Persin said.
The judge said he would suspend the defendant’s carry permit and flag him in the judicial system so that he’s unable to purchase a firearm. The latter measure is commonly referred to as a “red flag” statute, where individuals deemed dangerous by a court of law are prevented from “renting, receiving transfer of, owning, or possessing firearms.”
Indiana is one of 17 states to have enacted a red-flag statute, according to The Trace, a nonpartisan newsroom that tracks gun-control legislation by state. In a conservative-majority state, the “Jake Laird" law passed with unanimous assent in the State House and only one dissenting vote in the State Senate.
Following a February 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which resulted in the death of 17 students, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb released a curriculum to reiterate the importance of the red-flag statute to all local law enforcement agencies in the state. Holcomb also requested that additional funding be allocated to the Indiana Secured School Safety Fund.
Republican Indiana State Sen. Ron Alting has represented Tippecanoe County for nearly two decades and voted in favor of the 2005 red-flag statute. Alting, a firm supporter of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, lauded his colleagues over the phone Friday for being one of the first legislative bodies to enact a red-flag statute.
But Alting said the state needed to improve its system for promoting mental health for younger individuals and institute stronger counseling services in public schools. He pointed to mental illness as one of the main contributors to gun violence.
The senator said he wishes to see mental health background checks become a part of the state’s gun purchasing process.
“We want to prevent a problem before it becomes a problem, and a red-flag law does that,” Alting said. “If an individual has medical evidence that they’re mentally incompetent, I’m not in favor of them getting a firearm.”
A Purdue student was subject to the law in 2018 when his guns were also seized by police.
Spencer Au was arrested and later pled guilty to counts of battery and pointing a firearm at another person, among other charges, according to previous Exponent reporting. Police seized his weapons after Au's former roommates contacted law enforcement and informed them that Au had pointed a semi-automatic handgun at one of them and later shocked one of his roommates with a stun gun.