Chicago, IL – A veteran Cook County judge was charged with a misdemeanor after he dropped his pistol on the floor in the middle of the county’s main criminal courthouse lobby (video below).
Cook County Circuit Judge Joseph Claps was walking through the lobby with his suit jacket hanging over his arm around lunchtime on July 3 when the handgun the judge had put in his jacket pocket dropped to the stone floor with a clatter, according to The Washington Post.
In the surveillance video of the lobby that captured the incident.
The deputies standing near the entrance doors reacted to the sound of the gun falling, but didn’t do anything when they saw the 70-year-old judge bending over to reclaim his dropped firearm.
The video showed the judge picked up his gun, put it in his right pants pocket, and continued on his way across the lobby, as if nothing had happened.
The gun was believed to have been loaded at the time it was dropped, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Although Claps had a gun owner identification card and a valid concealed carrying license at the time, there is a state law that bans firearms in such places as courthouses – and judges are not exempt, Cook County Sheriff’s Office chief policy officer Cara Smith told The Washington Post.
Only bona fide law enforcement officers are permitted to carry firearms inside a courthouse in Illinois.
However, when the incident occurred, the deputies on duty thought that Claps might have had some kind of exemption or special dispensation to carry the weapon, so they notified their supervisors afterward instead of moving to intervene at the time, Smith explained.
Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans told the sheriff’s department that no exemption or authorization to carry firearms had been made for Claps, Smith told The Washington Post.
Following an investigation, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office charged Claps with the Class B misdemeanor offense of carrying a concealed weapon in a prohibited area, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Illinois State’s Attorney’s Spokesman Robert Foley was quick to point out that county prosecutors had not brought the charge against Claps.
Foley told the Chicago Tribune that county prosecutors planned to request that the Illinois Attorney General’s office prosecute the judge so as to avoid any conflict of interest.
The prosecutors for the state’s attorney’s office regularly appear before Claps in the courthouse, he said.
The judge, who was never actually detained by authorities, was released on his own recognizance ahead of his first court appearance at the branch courthouse in suburban Maywood, Smith said.
In the meantime, Claps has been reassigned to “non-judicial duties” pending the outcome of a meeting of the 17 judges of the circuit court, the chief judge said.
Claps has been a judge in Cook County for more than 20 years, and has spent the last 15 years assigned to the criminal division, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Before he took the bench, the judge was a Cook County prosecutor and the top assistant to the Illinois Attorney General.
Smith told The Washington Post that she thought the charge against Claps carried a maximum of 60 days in jail and a $150 fine.
You can see the video of the incident below: