Judge Refuses To Lift Maidstone Gun Club Order - 27 East

Judge Refuses To Lift Maidstone Gun Club Order

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The indoor pistol range.

The indoor pistol range.

An aerial view showing the orientation of the gun club shooting ranges and the homes of the residents who have sued to close it down.

An aerial view showing the orientation of the gun club shooting ranges and the homes of the residents who have sued to close it down.

The concrete firing tubes through which rifles are supposed to be fired.

The concrete firing tubes through which rifles are supposed to be fired.

The rifle range.

The rifle range.

authorMichael Wright on Jan 4, 2023

The Maidstone Gun Club remains closed to members despite pleas by the club to lift or ease the court ordered closure to allow members to use the main building, indoor pistol range and skeet shooting range — but not the outdoor rifle or pistol ranges — over the holidays.

Just before Christmas, and again last week, New York State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Modelewski declined to lift or modify the temporary restraining order he put in place on November 30, leaving the club entirely off limits until at least January 9, when attorneys for the club and five homeowners who sued in November asking the club be closed because of incidents of bullets striking their homes on several occasions dating back to 2004 are due to appear in court.

An attorney for the gun club said the claims made by the neighbors have never been shown to be accurate and that there has been no evidence that the bullets that have struck homes over the years came from the club.

“There is no factual basis for the continuance of an injunction shutting down the defendant’s gun club facility,” attorney Joseph Maniscalco argued on December 30. “All of the pleadings are based on speculation, conjecture, hyperbole and press releases dating back 18 years ago.”

He called the neighbors’ claims “a noise complaint wrapped in an alleged threat of the fear of their life.”

The club’s outdoor rifle range has been off-limits since August 5, when a bullet was reported to have struck the Merchant’s Path home of Roxana and Cristinel Pintilie, who are among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Residents of the road say that bullets have hit a group of five homes that sit roughly 1 mile down range of the rifle targets eight times since 2004. They have accused East Hampton Town Police of failing to fully investigate the incidents and asked the New York State Police to investigate the August 5 incident.

On November 29, they sued for the permanent closure of the club, which sits on 90 acres of land in Wainscott leased from East Hampton Town, and asked for an emergency TRO to halt any shooting at the club. Less than 24 hours later, Modelewski issued the order after the gun club failed to send a lawyer to oppose the motion.

In his letter to the judge, Maniscalco notes that the only potential threat of harm comes from the rifle range, which had been closed long before the TRO was issued and that the other activities pose no threat of stray bullets.

But he also argued that the homeowners and their attorneys had not presented any evidence that the gun club’s activities were to blame for the August 5 bullet or any others and that allowing an emergency injunction to remain in place for 41 days was inappropriately excessive.

He noted that even after the August 5 incident, the homeowners had not immediately gone in search of restraint of the entire club — instead waiting four months, which he said meant there must not have been any genuine urgency that would warrant such a sweeping injunction.

Gun club members have said that they do not see any way for bullets from the club’s rifle range to have escaped the range and hit the homes in question. They have suggested that illegal shooting in the woods surrounding the club, or along the power line clearings are more likely to blame.

Police who have investigated the various incidents of bullets striking homes have never been able to determine the source of the bullets.

The club has applied to East Hampton Town to renew its 30-year lease of the property, which is technically part of the East Hampton Airport land and is leased to the club for just $100 a year.

Walter Johnson, the president of the club, has not responded to several requests for comment. But the club’s former president, Mitch Yates, said in a statement that extensive safety measures have been instituted at the club, and especially around the rifle range.

The club’s mechanical gate is opened only by a digital code that is changed periodically and shared only with club members, he said. There is a license plate reader at the gate to log who enters the property and anyone using the rifle range must have previously taken a safety course and sign in to the range with the date and time they are shooting. The rifle range is monitored by surveillance video so any shooting activity is recorded.

He also reiterated the doubts related to the logistical complications with a bullet fired from the range to have hit one of the homes.

“For a bullet from the rifle range to hit one of the plaintiffs’ homes,” Yates said, “it would have to exit one of the cement tubes, travel upward toward the sky over the 40-foot-berm and then continue on that trajectory, and then pass through a dense forest area north of the gun club without impacting a tree, bark or branch.”

The gun club sits about 1 mile on the other side of dense “old growth” woodlands, as the club called it in their legal response, from the homes.

Shooting at the 250-yard rifle range is supposed to be done from one of several fixed, seated shooting positions, which force the shooter to aim down a 20-foot concrete tunnel to prevent a high bullet trajectory. A wooden baffle also tops the range to stop wayward or ricocheting bullets from sailing upward and out of the range.

But the shooting range is not actively monitored or regulated and homeowners said last fall that they were told by investigating State Police that on the day of the August 5 bullet strike, the club’s video surveillance had shown a Westhampton man had been firing an illegally modified AK-47 assault rifle from a position that did not require him to shoot through the concrete tubes.

Police have not released any of the details of their findings related to the incident.

Another club officer, Paul Sanchez, responded to the club when East Hampton Town Police were called on August 5 of last year — the day when workers at a Merchants Path home reported hearing gun shots in the distance followed by at least one bullet flying over their heads and hitting the house they were working at. The sounds of the bullet whizzing by and impacting the structure were captured by surveillance camera video of the footage, which The Press has viewed.

“I immediately shut down the rifle range as an exercise of extreme caution and agreed that the gun club would assist the police in any way requested,” Sanchez said in his statement, adding that he turned over surveillance videos of the rifle range that capture whoever shoots at the facility. “Since August 2022, I have not heard from the police, but understand that their investigation is now over and inconclusive that the alleged bullet from the video came from the club’s rifle range.”

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