At New Metropolitan Baptist Church in Upton, Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates recently appeared with several current and former elected officials at a town hall to discuss his first 100 days in office.
He’s vowed to pursue mandatory minimum sentences and lobbied lawmakers to increase the maximum sentence for those 21 and older who are convicted of wearing, carrying or transporting a handgun without a permit in Maryland.
With the legislature also passing new restrictions on where people with wear and carry permits can take their guns, Bates said there sometimes is going to be confusion with the law.
Prosecutors, he said, have to use their common sense. Bates went on to discuss a case that he said his office decided not to prosecute in which Baltimore Police charged a man from West Virginia who had legally purchased a handgun after law enforcement found the weapon in the trunk.
“My common sense said, ‘OK. I understand this individual’s from a different state. I understand the law is different,’” Bates said during the televised town hall. “Do we really make sense to prosecute this individual that in West Virginia’s done everything proper?”
But the court record reflects that’s not what happened. The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office was actually moving forward with the prosecution — and even asked for a postponement — and dropped the charges only after a judge excluded evidence in the case.
“They tried to get me over and over,” said Sean Hanratty, 53, a senior network engineer from Falling Waters, West Virginia, who had been facing two counts including wearing, carrying or transporting a handgun without a permit. “That is a complete lie.”
On Feb. 28, Hanratty said he was driving a friend from West Virginia so he could pick up his car in Baltimore. That’s when they got into a fender bender on North Forest Park Avenue in Franklintown, not far over the city line.
Hanratty said he has a bad left hip — doctors put in 13 screws and metal plates in 2007 after a car crash — and stated that his balance is not as good as it was in his youth. But police eventually accused him of being intoxicated and made him undergo field sobriety tests.
Police handcuffed Hanratty and searched his 2011 Hyundai Sonata, where they found a magazine containing 12 cartridges between the driver’s seat and center console. Officers discovered a 9mm handgun with one round in the chamber in the trunk.
But Hanratty said that was a mistake and stated that he did not realize that there are specific requirements for transporting a handgun in Maryland. He’s legally allowed to carry a gun openly or concealed in his home state, where licenses are optional for those 21 and older.
Later, at police headquarters, Hanratty took a breath test that showed that he had no alcohol in his system. A drug recognition expert from the Maryland Transportation Authority Police determined that he was not impaired, according to court documents.
Hanratty was initially held without bail in the Baltimore Center Booking & Intake Center and remained there for several days until his family posted a $2,500 bond. He said he was released at 10 or 11 p.m. in the rain. His iPhone had no battery left.
“It was horrible, man,” Hanratty said. “Who wants to walk around midnight in Baltimore?”
Eventually, Hanratty said he was able to find a room at a bad hotel. He said he convinced a stranger the next morning to briefly lend him a phone charger so he could get in touch with family.
Hanratty appeared for trial on April 3 in the District Court of Maryland in Baltimore.
Deputy District Public Defender Alycia Capozello, Hanratty’s attorney, asked a judge to throw out the charges or exclude the testimony of two witnesses.
Capozello said the state failed to provide notice that it intended to call a police officer and a firearms examiner as expert witnesses, which must be done before trial under the rules in Maryland.
“The state has a poorly prepared case that it should not be prosecuting in the first place,” Capozello said.
Assistant State’s Attorney Steven Kang argued against the request and then asked for a postponement.
District Judge Ana D. Hernandez later ruled that there was good cause to exclude the testimony of the two witnesses and remarked that she did not understand why the state had failed to disclose that information from the beginning.
“Where does that leave us now?” Hernandez asked.
“State will be entering a nol-pros, your honor,” Kang replied, using the Latin term for abandoning a prosecution.
In an interview, Capozello said she repeatedly asked prosecutors to drop the case on the grounds that her client was a legal gun owner from West Virginia and that the stop and search were unconstitutional. She said she provided the state with all the information it requested.
Prosecutors, she said, offered to place the case on the inactive docket. But Capozello said that could’ve had negative consequences for her client and he would’ve been required to forfeit his gun.
When Hanratty rejected that agreement, she said, the state decided to go forward with a “full-on prosecution.” She said her client was facing up to three years in prison.
“Mr. Bates said that he chose not to prosecute Sean, and ultimately, that’s inaccurate,” Capozello said. “The state called the case for trial,” she later added.
In an email, James Bentley, a spokesperson for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, said it offered to put the case on the inactive docket with the requirement that Hanratty forfeit the gun.
Bates, he said, stated that he was not targeting people with legitimate out-of-state permits — and kept his word.
Prosecutors proceeded with the case after Hanratty rejected that agreement, Bentley said. “The Court ruled in favor of the defense motion and we had to dismiss the case,” he said.
Bentley noted that gun ownership includes the responsibility to know the law, stating that Hanratty was illegally transporting a firearm in Maryland.
Several weeks after his arrest, Hanratty said, he’s still upset.
Hanratty said he had to pay almost $200 to pick up his car, which he could not drive home because the windshield was cracked. He said he’s lost the ability to work from home and had to take paid time off to deal with the case. And he said police have yet to give him back his gun, which cost $1,200.
He said he’s scared now to go to Baltimore. “It’s like I was thrown in a gulag,” Hanratty said.
“In the end,” he said, “I still got punished.”