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State police: Conaway's gun permit expired in March

State police said Baltimore Clerk of Circuit Court Frank M. Conaway Sr.'s permit to carry a concealed handgun expired in March, raising the possibility that he could face criminal charges after Monday's altercation with a blogger.

According to city police, Conaway "brandished" a firearm during an argument with blogger Adam Meister outside the city official's Northwest Baltimore home. Conaway said he had a permit to carry the weapon, but state police spokeswoman Elena Russo said records show it expired in March.

Carrying a handgun without a permit is a misdemeanor that carries a minimum penalty of 30 days in jail and a maximum of three years. But there's a major sticking point: Even if Conaway's permit lapsed, he would be allowed to possess the gun on his own property, and there were differing accounts of whether Conaway stepped off the property.

Conaway, 78, said Tuesday that he remained inside the fenced-in portion of his yard. Meister, who acknowledges yelling insults at Conaway while on a morning jog, said Conaway had chased him down the sidewalk and threw a punch. Conaway says he did not attempt to punch Meister and countered with a claim that Meister tried to "karate kick" him.

City police officers who were in the area on other business witnessed the incident, but the Police Department withheld its report Tuesday as prosecutors deliberated over whether to bring charges against the two men. Conaway's attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, did not return several phone messages.

Ivan Bates, a criminal defense attorney who is not involved in the case, said Conaway could be in trouble if he left his property. "Once the person has left, they're not on your property and not a threat," Bates said. "You can't just go chasing down the street with your gun."

But Conaway would not be in danger of losing the elected office he has held since 1998 — the Maryland Constitution says an elected official must step down only if convicted of a felony, or a misdemeanor related to his work in office.

Concealed-carry permits are difficult to obtain in Maryland — applicants must demonstrate a "good and substantial need" and go through background checks. Permits are good for three years and must be renewed. State law says that "renewals are the responsibility of the applicant."

Conaway said he believed he should have been alerted that his permit had lapsed: "I was never notified. I think there's an obligation on the part of the state police to notify" permit owners, he said.

The altercation between Meister and Conaway was a bizarre twist in a political feud. In March, Meister examined property records and revealed that Conaway's daughter, City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, was claiming homeowner tax credits on two properties — one of them in Baltimore County. Belinda Conaway filed a $21 million lawsuit against Meister, which she later dropped.

Meister has vowed to continue writing about the Conaway family and said his actions were protected as free speech.

Some of the city's black leaders were rallying around Conaway on Tuesday, saying Meister had crossed the line and was harassing Conaway.

Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Action Network, sent an email to Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III and State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein, "express[ing] concern for the life and safety of my friend."

Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, joined in on the email, saying Meister's behavior "appears to be harassment."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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