Rod Tuason, an East Palo Alto detective, allegedly posted comments in response to a friend's post that pro-gun Open Carry members should display their unloaded weapons in cities such as Oakland, Richmond and East Palo Alto — and not limit themselves to "hoity-toity" cities.
The comments from Tuason's page, which were copied and re-posted on an online forum called "Calguns.net," suggested beating the gun carriers to the ground and shooting them if they made "a furtive movement."
"Haha we had one guy last week try to do it! He got proned out and reminded where he was at and that turds will jack him for his gun in a heartbeat!" the post read, commenting on an incident in which an Open Carry member was removed from the Mi Pueblo Food Center in East Palo Alto Jan. 27.
"We gave him a real quick reminder how things will go bad real quick!" he added.
In response to a friend's post, Tuason continued: "Sounds like you had someone practicing their 2nd amendment rights last night! Should've pulled the AR out and prone them all out! And if one of them made a furtive movement ... 2 weeks off!!!" The final comment implied being placed on administrative leave following a shooting incident.
More than 500 outraged posters on the pro-gun Calguns.net forum commented on Tuason's remarks. Many vowed to flood East Palo Alto with protest letters and to march through the city.
"Saying that you will enjoy the shooting of an innocent and use a pretext — 'furtive motions' — to justify the slaying, is an indication of sociopathy. ... He has a badge and a gun, he is aware that his position as a police officer makes it possible for him to justify acts of homicide under certain situations. ... Such individuals should be dealt with harshly," a Peninsula resident wrote.
Tuason could not be reached for comment. He is a Calguns member, however, according to Gene Hoffman, president and CEO of the Calguns Foundation, a civil-defense and civil-litigation group dedicated to protecting Second Amendment rights. Tuason has apologized in the online forum to its members, he said.
Hoffman said he thinks Tuason's comments are sad and were made in jest.
"As a public servant, they were out of line, quite frankly," he said.
Donald Kilmer, a San Jose family law and civil rights attorney who has represented law-enforcement officers and as well as prosecuted police misconduct cases, said that Tuason may have jeopardized his career with his comments.
If the detective were to be involved in a shooting, and his motives were to be questioned, his past comments could lead people to believe he acted intentionally instead of accidentally.
Kilmer cited the recent case of BART officer Johannes Mehserle, who shot and killed a man in a station last year and later claimed he thought he was firing his Taser.
"If the BART officer said on his Facebook page, 'I can't wait to plug one of these little punks,' then he could be charged with murder. You never know what would happen if a few weeks from now this East Palo Alto officer is involved in a shooting," he said.
Tuason's comments are exactly why the Unloaded Open Carry (UOC) movement is a bad idea, Kilmer said.
On the street, where police officers face constant danger from criminals, an officer won't know the good guys from the bad guys walking around with a gun on the hip.
"A police officer can't get immune to that," he said.
East Palo Alto Police spokesman Capt. Carl Estelle agreed.
"We have over 1,200 ShotSpotter activations a year," he said, referring to a city-wide system that detects when a gun has fired. "We just got a conviction of a cop killer (Alberto Alvarez) who committed a cold-blooded murder of a police officer. To carry guns in East Palo Alto just might not be the smartest thing to do even though under the Second Amendment they can, with some conditions.
"That's not a threat to anybody — we don't mean it as a threat. We have to be careful about anybody carrying a weapon out there. Our officers don't have the time and convenience to assume that a gun is unloaded or that they are Open Carry members," he said.
But Estelle also said police officers are held to a higher standard than the general populace in terms of their behavior.
"Off-duty behavior can affect and reflect on the department. We have to behave a certain way on or off duty. We are held to different standards," he said.
Carrying an unloaded handgun in a holster is not illegal in California, according to police and gun advocates.
Hoffman said the state's law for licensing of concealed weapons has caused pent-up frustration in California.
The state is one of the few remaining where issuing concealed-weapon permits is not mandatory, he said. In many major cities, including Philadelphia, Detroit, Seattle, Portland, Reno and Las Vegas, people can carry unloaded weapons openly or concealed weapons with a permit.
In the old days, open-carry was considered the noble way to carry a gun.
"I've never seen an actual bad guy carry a gun openly. It's a very rare occurrence. Most gang members you find are hiding a gun concealed under their belt," he said.
Tuason remains on duty and is not expected to be placed on administrative leave during the course of the investigation, which Estelle said would be thorough and efficient.
But the department is being cautious not to trample on the officer's First Amendment rights, Estelle said.
"The First Amendment applies to everyone but a police officer? The officer has the same rights as other individuals. We just have to be careful not to violate Second Amendment rights," he said.
Talk about it
What do you think of people carrying unloaded guns in public? Share your opinion on Town Square, the community discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.