By Andrew Davis | The Gazette
One of the two men had a shotgun slung over his back and wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with white winged skulls.
The other had an AR-15 assault rifle on his back and a black semi-automatic pistol holstered at his waist.
They were walking around Public Square about 3 p.m. Monday as businesses bustled with customers and youngsters were leaving Garfield Elementary School.
The men say they weren’t a danger to the public. They said they were just exercising their Second Amendment rights to bear arms openly.
But police say such “open carry walks” scare many people and present officers with a difficult problem: How can police determine whether a person carrying a weapon is a felon, a minor or someone else prohibited from having firearms?
Monday’s incident, which was video recorded by both police and one of the armed men, demonstrated the answer to the question isn’t easy.
Medina police officers Calvin Undercoffer and David McGurk confronted the two men as they left the square, walking on North Court Street.
The officers were responding to 911 calls. A total of 10 calls were recorded.
“I asked the males for ID and they stated they did not really wish to show me their ID, that it was their right not to do so,” Undercoffer wrote in his report.
The report identified the men as James Purdy, 25, of Brunswick, and Micah Butcher, 25, of Grafton.
Undercoffer pressed, asking Purdy how old he was.
“21, I mean 25,” he said.
“I told him again that I needed to verify that they were old enough to legally have the weapons on them, and needed to see ID,” Undercoffer wrote.
Again Purdy refused, saying he would give the officer his name and his age but wasn’t required to produce an ID.
Undercoffer stated, “At that point I told him to put the weapons up and put his hands on the side of my car.”
Purdy responded, “All right, can I give you my ID?”
Both men handed over driver’s licenses and were found to have no felony records.
“They both stated that they were members of Ohio Carry and were trying to talk with local merchants and people about the right to open carry and perhaps have merchants pass out their literature,” Undercoffer wrote in his report.
The officers told the men “that in this day and age, people panic and call the police when they see weapons being displayed in public, especially near a court house or in the vicinity of two schools in the block south of the Square,” according to Undercoffer’s report.
“Both men were then permitted to go about their business, and dispatch was advised to tell any more callers that these subjects were checked out all was OK.”
The encounter ended amicably with Undercoffer shaking hands with both Purdy and Butcher. But the key issue of how far police can go when questioning people carrying firearms in public places remains.
Ohio law requires a person to disclose his or her name, address or date of birth when requested by a law enforcement officer who “reasonably suspects” the person “is committing, has committed or is about the commit a criminal offense.”
But the law does not specifically say that written identification has to be provided.
Medina Police Chief Patrick Berarducci said Undercoffer’s request for Purdy’s ID was proper because the officer was rightly suspicious when Purdy fumbled over his age.
But Berarducci said the Ohio Legislature should make the law clearer.
“I absolutely think they should clarify this,” he said.
The Gazette attempted to contact Purdy through email, telephone and Facebook but got no response.
Their group, called Northeast Ohio Carry — a chapter of a larger statewide effort called Ohio Carry — promotes, “the second amendment, gun rights and the legal carry of firearms through public demonstrations, law enforcement partnerships, online resources, firearm training and education,” according to its website.
Berarducci criticized the “open carry” walks.
“I think you create a dangerous situation in a community such as ours when you purposely illicit a response by walking around,” he said. “This kind of behavior will hurt … their cause.”
Berarducci said “active shooter” killings, such as the one at Chardon High School two years ago, mean there definitely will be 911 calls from traumatized people if someone walks into a public place brandishing a gun.
He said police must respond to those calls, and “whenever you draw police resources away from other calls to deal with this foolishness, it is not in the best interest of public safety.”