Man sues Washington Co. sheriff over gun permit

February 3, 2014
Sheriff Sam Romano

A Chartiers Township man at the center of one of the highest profile civil cases in the history of Washington County Court is suing the county sheriff in federal court to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Gary P. Fender filed the federal case Friday against the county and Sheriff Sam Romano, claiming he is being denied his civil rights by Romano’s refusal to process his application for the gun permit.

In 1991, Fender, of 143 Irwin St., won an equal share of his former live-in girlfriend’s $8.2 million Super 7 lottery jackpot in the so-called “Lottomony” jury trial in Washington County Court.

At some point before 2000, Fender was notified by Romano to surrender his concealed weapons permit, he claims in the federal case. On two occasions last year, Fender states, he reapplied at the sheriff’s office for the gun permit and was told Romano would not act on the applications because of “an unspecified objection” from Chartiers police Chief Jim Horvath to Fender holding such a gun permit.

He states his attorney, Peter N. Georgiades, wrote to Romano Dec. 27, asking the sheriff to reveal the specific reasons Fender is being denied the gun permit, but the attorney never got a reply from the sheriff.

However, Georgiades said he received a response Monday from the county’s solicitor explaining that his client’s gun permit had been revoked in 1998 over secondhand reports to township police that Fender had been overheard in a bar saying he had a gun and was going to use it to “get” his wife and her relatives.

Georgiades said Fender was due a statement of the accusations from the sheriff in 1998 and should have had a hearing before the permit was revoked.

He said the letter from the solicitor didn’t specify why the new permit applications were not being processed.

Fender states in his lawsuit that he has never been convicted of any crimes that would legally prohibit him from having a concealed weapons permit.

Pennsylvania law allows a sheriff to deny a license to carry a firearm based on the findings of criminal background checks, or “if there is reason to believe that the character and reputation of the individual are such that they would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety,” a Pennsylvania State Police website indicates.

Horvath declined to discuss Fender’s allegations in the lawsuit. Romano was not in his office Monday and could not be reached.

In the letter Georgiades sent to Romano, he speculated Fender was being denied the permit pursuant to the “character and reputation” provision in the state’s gun law.

The lawsuit was transferred to the federal court’s Alternative Dispute Resolution program in an effort to settle it outside of the courtroom.

Washington County solicitor J. Lynn DeHaven said the county will petition to be dismissed from the lawsuit because it does not state any reason why the county is liable. He said Romano is an elected official and not an employee of the county.

Under the county code, Romano has a right to ask the county for an attorney, and if he does, DeHaven said the case will be turned over to the county’s insurance carrier.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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