Olmstead Falls, OH – The owner of an Ohio amusement park is speaking out after his business was accused of telling an off-duty sheriff’s deputy to leave the premises because he was carrying a concealed firearm.
“Out of all the groups, for someone to say we don’t support police or the military hurts the worst,” Swings-N-Things owner Tim Sorge told Blue Lives Matter on Monday.
“We support them in so many ways… because we believe in them… I love these guys,” he said.
In a since-deleted Facebook post, Lake County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Mike Zgrebnak’s wife, Carrie, explained that she and her family were asked to leave the Swings-N-Things amusement park in Olmstead Falls on Sunday, after an employee spotted the off-duty deputy wearing a concealed firearm.
“We were asked to leave because this park doesn’t support the law enforcement family,” Carrie’s post read. “Apparently one of the employees [just doing his job] had seen Mikes [sic] firearm [while getting in and out of go karts] and reported it.”
“Mike showed his badge and ID yet management still asked us to leave!” she wrote.
After the post quickly went viral, Sorge released a statement on the Swings-N-Things Facebook page to explain what had occurred.
Sorge said that Carrie’s post was “extremely troubling” to both him and his wife, who have operated the amusement park for the past 36 years.
“We’ve never had anything like this,” he told Blue Lives Matter.
According to Sorge, another guest at the park spotted Deputy Zgrebnak carrying a gun in a belt holster beneath his sweatshirt, and became concerned, the post read.
The guest then notified the park manager.
Sorge told Blue Lives Matter that other park visitors had no way of knowing that the officer, who was off-duty and not wearing a uniform, was a member of law enforcement.
“Someone walking around out of uniform with a gun is troubling,” he explained.
In the Facebook post, Sorge noted that the park manager approached Deputy Zgrebnak and told him that firearms are not permitted inside the park – a rule that is also specified on signs at the park’s entrance.
“The gentleman identified himself as an off-duty police officer and [said that] as such should be permitted to continue to carry his firearm while in our park,” Sorge explained. “We respect his opinion but disagree with it.”
Sorge told Blue Lives Matter that Swings-N-Things contracts with local law enforcement agencies to have uniformed, armed police officers on duty at the park on the weekends, and that they bring in even more officers during their frequent big events.
“We have one of the best safety records in the entire industry,” Sorge explained. “We’ve also done active shooting drills with our employees with the help of the police.”
Concerned that there might have been a law he was unaware of, the park manager even called the Olmsted Township Police Department after the incident to ask if the park was required to allow off-duty officers to carry concealed weapons on the premises, Sorge explained.
The park manager was assured that firearm restrictions were dependent upon the policies of the park, according to Sorge.
“I’m not going to apologize for our policy, and I’m not going to change our policy,” he told Blue Lives Matter.
“Our manager simply asked him to take his gun to his car but the officer did not feel he should have to do this and elected to leave the park,” Sorge explained in the Facebook post. “His family was given full day passes to enjoy the park sometime in the future.”
“We did not kick them out,” he emphasized during his interview with Blue Lives Matter.
Despite the fact that most other amusement parks also prohibit firearms on the premises, many social media users blasted Swings-N-Things for not making an exception for Deputy Zgrebnak.
Some users argued that officers are required to carry their weapons even when off-duty, but Lake County Chief Deputy Frank Leonbruno told Blue Lives Matter that their office does not have such a mandate.
Although Lake County deputies can legally carry their weapon while off-duty, businesses also have the right to prohibit firearms on their property, Chief Leonbruno explained.
“What troubles us most are the comments that are being made about us on facebook,” Sorge’s post continued. “I cannot imagine many businesses that support our local first responders and our military as much as we do – and have done so for the past 36 years.”
Swings-N-Things also hosts free events for first responders, so they can enjoy the park at no charge, he told Blue Lives Matter.
Sorge said he was especially “appalled at how police were being portrayed” during President Barak Obama’s administration, and said he works closely with Olmsted Township Police Chief Matthew Vanyo to help support various pro-police causes in the community.
“We have a large sign in our Gameroom stating our support for these brave citizens,” Sorge reiterated in his Facebook post. “We have always financially supported causes that support these groups.”
“We are staunch conservatives, members of the NRA and totally support every aspect of our constitution,” he wrote. “I think if you ask our local law enforcement community or our community leaders, they will tell you how ‘off-base’ these posts are.”
Carrie had not responded to Blue Lives Matter’s request for comment as of press time.
UPDATE: On Tuesday night, Deputy Zgrebnak and his wife provided a statement to Blue Lives Matter regarding their visit to Swings-N-Things.
Deputy Zgrebnak said he has carried his concealed firearm during his annual trips to the park for the past five years "without issue."
After he was questioned by management, the deputy confirmed he was given the option of storing his firearm in his vehicle or leaving the park.
"Leaving a firearm in a vehicle is not an option I was comfortable with so my only option was to leave with my family," Deputy Zgrebnak wrote.
Since they had only been at the park for approximately 20 minutes before the incident occurred, the deputy requested that his family's tickets be refunded.
"Instead, we were given passes to attend another day," he said. "To avoid any conflict, we accepted them."
Deputy Zgrebnak said the manager was "professional and kind the entire time," and noted that they shook hands before he left the park with his family.
"We would like everyone to know that we have no bad feelings toward the business nor its owners," the deputy wrote. "My family and I have had several enjoyable days at the park and we would encourage people to continue to patronize the park."
Deputy Zgrebnak described Swings-N-Things as a "good, family friendly location," and said the business has "every right to not want weapons on their property."
"We respect their right," he concluded.