A judge in Carroll County Circuit Court ordered state police yesterday to return the majority of weapons they seized from a Mount Airy man who was arrested after a search yielded more than 100 weapons and gun accessories at his home, including some found near a sleeping child.
In the second day of arguments from defense attorneys for Amir H. Tabassi and prosecutors from the state attorney general's office, Judge Vincent J. Femia decided after an hour that police acted beyond the scope of the search and seizure warrant they executed at Tabassi's home Aug. 5. That warrant allowed state troopers to seize unregistered machine guns, but they also took other guns, ammunition and accessories.
Some of the weapons were found in locked safes, which investigators opened during the search. In court testimony Monday, state police Cpl. Frank Lopez said the proliferation of unsecured guns in the household was enough to convince investigators that children in the house were in danger and that all weapons in the house should be seized. The judge disagreed.
"The weaponry and associated items found in the safes in the office are clearly inadmissible under any stretch of the imagination," Femia said. "It's so far beyond the scope, even if one believes in reckless endangerment."
Defense attorney Bryon C. Black said that Tabassi's federal and state licenses are current and that the return of his guns will allow him to continue his gun dealership, which he runs from his home.
Femia ordered the return of all the guns and accessories seized from Tabassi's home in the 5000 block of Ridge Road, except for 18 machine guns and the weapons taken from the bedroom where state police discovered a sleeping 12-year-old girl.
Police seized 13 of the machine guns in the bedroom and charged Tabassi with 13 counts of access to firearms by minors and one count of reckless endangerment. He also was charged with wearing and transporting a handgun without a permit when state police discovered a handgun in his red Mazda Protege.
The weapons police will return include a .357 Magnum Rossi M877, a Benelli Super 90 12-gauge shotgun and a Colt .45-caliber Combat Commander semiautomatic handgun. State police later discovered that Tabassi had custody of his young son and daughter the day before the search warrant was executed. They then charged him with an additional two counts of reckless endangerment. Tabassi won a motion to face these charges in a separate trial.
Femia allowed the state to keep the weapons they found in the bedroom where they discovered the girl - who is the sister of one of Tabassi's female friends - because he said that police were justified in considering the child in peril. The trooper who discovered the girl testified yesterday that he saw two holstered guns lying on a bed 3 inches from the child. He ushered the child out of the room before checking whether the weapons were loaded. They were, he said.
"I still believe the officer acted reasonably in doing what he did," Femia said.
But the judge agreed with defense attorney Eric Schaffer in his assertion that police did not pass the test that the law applies in seizing items outside the scope of a warrant.
Schaffer argued that police could not expect that the evidence they gathered after they crossed that line - going beyond the search warrant - would be admissible in court.
Assistant Attorney General Paul Budlow argued that the guns found in such close proximity to the 12-year-old girl were evidence of probable cause for reckless endangerment - a point that Femia agreed with in allowing the state to keep those weapons.
Tabassi, who is on $25,000 bail, has said the charges are a result of racial discrimination. Tabassi, a U.S. citizen, was born in Iran. He was in the news in 2001 after leading police to a murder conspiracy involving Scott Caruthers and other members of Beta Dominion Xenophilia, a Carroll County group that reputedly believed Caruthers to be a space alien and messiah.
Tabassi is scheduled for two trials starting April 26 on the reckless endangerment charges.