Lawrence man, among the few ticketed for Fourth of July fireworks, awaits his day in court

Matt McManis, 39, was one of four Lawrence residents ticketed by police this year for shooting illegal fireworks. Like many, says he is not a fan of the 2002 prohibition on fireworks in Lawrence.

Matt McManis, ticketed for shooting fireworks on July Fourth in Lawrence, felt a little singled out.

He didn’t dispute the facts: He was guilty. McManis, 39, along with his wife, children, and about 30 neighbors and friends, ignited a significant quantity of fireworks outside his home in southwest Lawrence, just as they have for the past several years.

So McManis accepted a municipal citation from a Lawrence police officer without complaint. He knew, of course, that most fireworks, certainly including the mortars and roman candles he had been firing over the cul-de-sac of Bluestem Court, have been illegal in Lawrence for more than 10 years.

But after reading in the Journal-World that only one citation had been written — to him — among all of the people across the city shooting off fireworks that night, he wondered: Why me?

In fact, police now say, officers wrote four citations for fireworks violations in Lawrence over the July Fourth holiday. Three more citations were noted in police records in the following days as officers completed paperwork from the busy night, said Sgt. Trent McKinley, a Lawrence Police Department spokesman.

A Fourth of July celebration in the cul-de-sac of Bluestem Court produced a fair amount of fireworks related debris, which resident Matt McManis and neighbors cleaned up. McManis said he thought the appearance of litter might have contributed to a Lawrence police officer's decision to ticket him for violating the city's ban on fireworks.

The police responded to more than 100 complaints about fireworks that night, issuing warnings to many residents, even as they handled drunken drivers and other calls elsewhere in the city.

Why the police officer chose to issue McManis one of the night’s relatively few citations, rather than giving him a warning, is hard to say. In past years, the police have driven by the party during the day and waved. There have never been any problems, McManis said.

The difference might have been in the late hour, or in appearances. The family-friendly party on Bluestem Court was fairly large, with dozens people, an inflatable castle rented for the children and a fair amount of firework debris in the street, which McManis and the neighbors cleaned up later.

Or, as McKinley pointed out, the officer might have been thinking of the neighbor who called police shortly before 11 p.m. saying some of the fireworks were landing on the neighbor’s vehicle and property.

“If people are calling in and they have that level of detail, and they want us to do something about it, it doesn’t surprise me that we would write a citation,” McKinley said.

A municipal citation for illegal fireworks issued to Matt McManis, 39, of Lawrence. McManis said he doesn't agree with the ban but does not dispute the charge.

Some have complained that the police department doesn’t enforce the fireworks prohibition aggressively enough. The police department has averaged about three fireworks citations a year since 2008, according to a preliminary department report. Violating the fireworks ordinance is punishable by a fine of up to $200 on the first offense, while each subsequent violation could trigger a fine of up to $500 plus up to six months in jail.

Police note that they do more than issue citations, and point to the amount of an officer’s time that a fireworks citation can take up. From June 30 to July 6 this year, Lawrence police responded to nearly 200 fireworks complaints and confiscated fireworks from 12 different locations.

And writing a ticket isn’t necessarily as simple as it sounds, McKinley said. Legally, an officer cannot write a juvenile a ticket for fireworks. Municipal citations can only be issued to adults — with the exception of traffic infractions, which operate differently.

Consequently, in the many, many fireworks cases that involve teenagers, an officer would have two options: spend hours detaining the teenager, write a full report, contact parents, and possibly take the child to a juvenile detention facility, or give a stern warning and go on to handle the next call.

“We’re always willing to expend whatever resources on enforcement that the city asks for,” McKinley said. “What do you want to spend your resources on?”

Matt McManis, 39, of Lawrence, helps organize his neighborhood's annual Fourth of July celebration in southwest Lawrence. He was one of four Lawrence residents ticketed by police this year for shooting off illegal fireworks.

The statistics and procedures don’t matter much to McManis, who must appear in Lawrence Municipal Court later this month to face a fine of up to $200. Like many in Lawrence, he is not a fan of the prohibition on pyrotechnics.

“I still think it’s silly,” he said. But he does not blame the police officer who ticketed him, or plan to contest the charge. “I have respect for the law. Yes, I broke the law. If I have to pay a $200 fine, I’ll pay the $200 fine.”

It is, McManis said, his first offense, so there is no danger of jail time. And some of his neighbors have offered to pitch in a few dollars to help with the fine.

Regardless of the court’s verdict, McManis said, his neighborhood Fourth of July party will continue next year. He will again invite the neighbors, throw some meat on the grill and probably will rent another bouncy castle, he said. For the children there will be, at least, some of the small, novelty fireworks that are legal in the city.

Whether next year’s celebration will again involve something more explosive, he said, he doesn’t know.

“If someone wants to bring something else, well, that’s what it is,” he said.