Toy gun incident angers Westminster parent

January 12, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

The gun was a fake, but Charlotte Brown remains genuinely angry.

She knew early yesterday she would spend most of the day with the telephone against her ear, and she did.

The Westminster mother had overheard her 13-year-old son casually mention to his sister Sunday night that Davis Shoe Store owner Pete Davis pulled out a gun to scare away four of the boy's friends about three weeks earlier.

"I put down my magazine and said, 'Back up a minute,' " Ms. Brown said.

Her son told her Mr. Davis had also ordered him and another boy out of the East Main Street store about a week after the "gun" incident.

All six of the boys are black and Mr. Davis is white, but Ms. Brown said she does not necessarily believe that was what caused Mr. Davis to pull out the fake gun or order the boys out. The boys reported no racial epithets.

"I don't know why he did it. I don't care what took place. There is no justifiable reason for why he behaved as he did," Ms. Brown said, "unless they went in and threatened him or got physical in any way. The boys did not have weapons."

She reported the incident yesterday morning to Westminster Police Chief Sam Leppo, who promptly sent a detective to investigate whether there was a handgun involved. When Chief Leppo called her back to say it was a toy gun, Ms. Brown was only a little relieved.

"My answer to that is 'I don't care,' " she said, slowly. "Suppose it had been real." The boys did not know it was plastic, she said.

Mr. Davis telephoned Ms. Brown yesterday afternoon and apologized. He offered to apologize to the other parents disturbed by his action.

Ms. Brown said she accepted his apology, but was still feeling angry about the situation.

"They [at the store] admitted they did not expect this to go this far, and I did not expect it to happen at all," Ms. Brown said. "I think it's quite a surprise to us all."

Mr. Davis later showed the toy gun to a reporter. Close up, it was obviously a cheap, gray plastic toy revolver. But Mr. Davis conceded that from where the boys were standing about 15 to 20 feet away, it could have looked real.

In fact, he did pull it out "just to scare them," he said.

"They come in here, a bunch of them, every day and pick up the shoes and harass me," Mr. Davis said. "And at their age, they're not buying shoes."

At least not the $100 boots they seem to keep picking up, he said.

Downtown merchants and even the Carroll County Public Library have complained before about the flood of adolescents downtown when schools let out, especially from Westminster East Middle School, which is within walking distance and is where all six boys attend school.

Mr. Davis' shoe store and repair shop is not a place likely to attract young people, with its stock of shoes that are more sturdy than fashionable. However, he does sell some Timberland boots. The brand is popular with teens, although Mr. Davis doesn't have the black lace-up style that is in demand.

Mr. Davis and a female employee who declined to give her name said they have repeatedly told the boys that they are no longer carrying Timberland and have only a few odd sizes left.

They said they also have asked the boys on several occasions to leave when they "smart off," or get too familiar such as by turning up the volume on the television.

Chief Leppo said there was no crime committed, as far as he can tell.

"I guess it's just bad judgment on the part of the shop owner," Chief Leppo said. "We checked, and there's no criminal act."

He said that if someone brandished a fake gun while committing a crime, such as robbing a store, he or she would likely be arrested. But Mr. Davis apparently just picked up the gun and set it on the counter so the boys could see it.

Ms. Brown said she didn't want Mr. Davis to be arrested; she wanted an apology and an understanding on the part of business owners that he was wrong to pull out even a toy gun.

"Suppose one of the young boys had the same plastic toy gun," Ms. Brown said. "Do you think that [a shop owner] would have taken the time to find out whether it was real or not? He would have pulled out his real thing."

The first chance she got yesterday, staying home with her son who has the flu, Ms. Brown spent the day on the phone. After calling police, she also called Mayor W. Benjamin Brown -- not a relative -- and other community groups and officials.

"It's obvious they don't think things like this happen in Carroll County," Ms. Brown said. "We need to nip it."

Mayor Brown invited Ms. Brown and the other parents to bring their sons for a meeting with him. He said he wants to reassure them that the incident is an isolated one.

"I guess my initial feeling was just feeling sick," said Mr. Brown. He said his own 15-year-old son "drives me to distraction" when shopping for boots or other items. He would hate to think anyone would pull a gun on the boy, he said.

"It's more related to this particular store than to the attitudes of other merchants in the downtown," Mr. Brown said. "I can't imagine another business in town that would do this."

He said he wouldn't go as far as to say he expected it to happen in Davis Shoe Store, but said, "Mr. Davis and his attitude toward customers and business are well-known."

When asked if he was aware he had a reputation for being something of a grouch, Mr. Davis said yes.

"When you're in business and especially when you're doing repairs, you have incidents where you have a little bit of disagreement over prices and whatever," he said.

"I guess I'm old enough and been on Main Street long enough to be grumpy."

He would not give his age, although said he opened his shop in 1946 when he got out of the service.

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