CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Lamont Gist tried to renew his concealed carry permit just out of the city, at a less crowded sheriff’s office with open appointments.
Gist started recording his visit to the Portage County Sheriff’s Department because he couldn’t believe he was being denied a CCW renewal.
“I got my social; I got both my IDs right here, how can you not establish my identity? You’re not explaining to me why.,” he said to deputies in the cell phone footage.
Gist says he originally got his CCW in 2016 after a man robbed and shot him near St. Clair and East 112th street.
“I just know I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and luckily I made it out alive,” Gist said.
He says he still has one of the bullets in his body.
”I never carried a gun before I got shot,” he said. “The CCW is for my protection and nothing else. I’m not out here being a violent person.”
Gist says he works full time as an Amazon delivery driver, and he writes rap music with his brother on the side.
When deputies denied him the permit, one of them held up a picture from a music video Gist was in that had been posted to YouTube in 2018.
“What does that have to do with my CCW,” Gist asked.
The deputy replied, saying, “a picture says a thousand words.”
Gist and his bother appear to be sitting at a table with marijuana and tequila.
“I told them I’m a Cleveland rapper. I told them it was props in the video,” Gist said.
Gist says he made this video after he got shot, because he believes drugs are a big issue for people in the city.
“Drugs and alcohol starts a lot of problems, period. And, that’s what the video was about. Cleveland is heartless.
Deputies say there is an arrest warrant out for Gist’s brother Lavonte who’s also in the video. Deputies say Lavonte had given Lamont’s name as his at one point.
The department says deputies figured that out, though, and realized there was indeed no warrant out for Lamont’s arrest.
Lamont doesn’t have any prior convictions.
“I didn’t know social media could be used in a background check. I thought it was just criminal cases and warrants,” Gist said.
Deputies say they came upon the music video though, as they were investigating Gist’s identity.
Sheriff Bruce Zuchowski and his deputies did not reply to our requests for an on camera interview.
However in a written statement, department told 19 Investigates, “based on this image and the presence of what appears to be an illicit substance as well as the presence of a wanted felon in the same image, Sherriff Zuchowski decided to deny the issuance of a CCW permit.”
According to the ACLU, provocative and controversial entertainment such as a music video, should be protected as free speech under the First Amendment.
After we found a sign in the department’s lobby that says “the sheriff reserves the right to deny a permit at his discretion,” we asked experts whether it’s legal for a sheriff to use discretion to deny a license.
Buckeye Firearms Association Board President Jim Irvine says, “Yes. the sheriff is entitled to use discretion to deny a license, but he must explain why he denied the license.”
Gist says he never got an explanation on the day he was denied, and he never received one in writing-- which is required by state law.
Irvine says law enforcement can legally look at your social media during a background check.
But, there are only a few reasons law enforcement could deny someone a CCW. Drug and alcohol addiction is one of them, but addiction can be extremely hard to prove, especially through a video.
“Is that really tequila in the bottle or is it water in the bottle? I don’t know. I can’t tell from a video,” Irvine said. “There would have to be an investigation and bottom line, you’re not going to be able to tell what was on a table in a video three years ago. So, if you can’t say this is a prohibited activity, why the denial? There’s got to be something else there for the sheriff to deny it.”
Irvine says in this case, Gist could probably force Portage county to issue him a license, if he took the case to court.
However, Gist took A quicker route, getting the renewal in Ashland County instead, after deputies tell us they encouraged him to go elsewhere.
When we asked him about whether the experience differed in Ashland County, he said, “Very different, totally different. It was a 10-minute process there. She scanned my ID, fingerprinted me, took my money and my application and said she was going to call me when my id was ready.”
So why the difference?
“You have 88 counties in Ohio and 88 sheriffs and they all do different things,” Irvine said.
19 investigates wanted to know if the application process was arbitrary or perhaps even worse, if it had a built in bias.
Philip Smith is the President of the National African American Gun Rights Association.
“You have to have a process that’s fair,” Smith said.
Smith believes Gist’s experience in the two counties shows Ohio’s CCW system may be flawed.
“I think there’s some issues that may be internally wrong in their process,” he said.
Smith believes Gist is one of many African Americans part of a national trend.
“I think it’s not even debatable that [black men] are denied at a higher rate,” Smith said.
However, there isn’t data to prove any sort of trend, because CCW information is not public record.
“Me personally just speaking from experience, nothing statistical, I would say yes [African Americans are denied more frequently than those other races],” Smith said.
Irvine isn’t so sure the denial in Portage County was race motivated.
“I doubt its discrimination, I know that’s the popular thing to think,” he said.
The sheriff’s department says it was not discriminating against Gist.
Irvine says it’d be hard to prove it was.
But, in the end, does it really matter?
Either way, both experts believe Gist’s gun rights may have been violated in Portage County.
19 News discovered the Attorney General’s office is not investigating Gist’s case though, because in the end he did get his renewal.
So, Gist is left to wonder if his original denial was justified and whether the rap video he appeared in unjustifiably influenced the deputies.
“I have no priors, no warrants, so it shouldn’t stop me from getting a ccw,” Gist said.
“There’s all kinds of pieces here that don’t add up and don’t make sense,” Irvine said. “I would love to know what the whole story is.”
According to data from the state, the Portage County Sheriff’s office has only denied two CCW permits in the last two years.
However, that was under a different sheriff.
We asked if more have been denied so far this year under the new sheriff and we have not received a response.
Though Gist got his license, he says he does still plan to take legal action against the Portage County Sheriff’s Department.
We’ll keep you updated on if and when that happens.