2 arrested downtown for gun violations

Highway Patrol sends helicopter to aid in searches

As a Kansas Highway Patrol helicopter patrolled from the air, Lawrence police on Friday seized two semi-automatic guns from a vehicle downtown and arrested two Kansas City, Mo., men on gun violations.

Sgt. Dan Ward, a Lawrence Police spokesman, said the arrests were the result of increased patrols undertaken after the department learned of a possible threat from people attending a concert at Last Call, 729 N.H.

“We increased our manpower in the downtown area in order to try to address that, and as a result we recovered two very, very dangerous assault weapons,” Ward said. “Those guns posed a very serious danger to the citizens and the safety of the officers.”

It’s the latest episode in a series of gun-related incidents downtown in the past year. Officers repeatedly have seized guns from parking lots near Last Call, most frequently on its Saturday “hip-hop” night. In May, someone fired seven gunshots inside the club.

“We’ve recovered somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 guns in the downtown area” in recent months, Ward said. “These two weapons are by far more dangerous and more concern to us than what we’ve recovered so far. Both these guns were loaded and they were in the firing position.”

Two arrests

According to Lawrence Police spokeswoman Kim Murphree, police were on patrol shortly before 1:30 a.m. in the parking lot of Borders Books and Music Cafe, 700 N.H., when they saw two weapons in a vehicle. Shortly after 3 a.m., officers made contact with the vehicle’s driver, a 21-year-old, and an occupant, age 23.

Police seized a Bushmaster Carbon 15 pistol with a 30-round magazine and a Ruger Mini-14 with a 100-round magazine. Both guns were loaded with .223-caliber ammunition, police said.

Both men were arrested and taken to the Douglas County Jail. The 23-year-old, Richard Vonelle Cooper, was cited for carrying a weapon near a bar, then released on bond and ordered to appear in court Jan. 3. The 21-year-old, identified as Damen Terell Carter, was booked into jail and charged Friday with criminal possession of a firearm.

During Carter’s first appearance in District Court, Assistant District Attorney Brenda Clary said he had a past drug conviction that involved a gun.

Lt. John Eichkorn, a Highway Patrol spokesman, said Lawrence police requested the helicopter as part of a special patrol.

“When large crowds are aware of the helicopter, a lot of times it does keep the crowd … from becoming unruly,” Eichkorn said. “It’s probably a deterrent, No. 1. It’s an officer-safety issue, No. 1”

Eichkorn said the helicopter was used not just in downtown, but also to help find a suspect’s vehicle in a vandalism case. Police did not have further details on that case Friday.

Neighborhood concerns

The helicopter’s presence in the area raised concerns of some nearby residents.

Sean Brumwell, 29, a Kansas University doctoral candidate and a research analyst at Fort Leavenworth, said he woke up a few times during the night at his home near 14th and Vermont Streets. He likened the helicopter’s noise to a neighbor mowing the lawn at midnight.

“I appreciate the fact that they’re trying to do something. I just think that might be a little too much,” he said. “At least for me, the waking up part was a little more inconvenient than I think it should be.”

The helicopter costs about $127 per hour to operate and was in the air for five hours, Eichkorn said.

The helicopter also was used in February to patrol downtown. Ward said Lawrence police don’t always know ahead of time when the highway patrol’s helicopter will be brought to Lawrence.

“We always welcome any assistance from other jurisdictions that are willing to help, just as we would assist them,” Ward said. “We will continue, when we have intelligence information, to address it in what we deem to be an appropriate manner.”

Last Call’s owner, Dennis Steffes, did not return a phone call Friday seeking comment.