Trial court erred in ordering harassing neighbor’s firearms seized

A trial court erred in ordering firearms seized and in placing other restrictions on a man the court properly determined had committed stalking against his neighbor, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

A motions panel of the appeals court previously ordered John A. Fox’s firearms returned after they were seized as part of a court order issued by Senior Judge Thomas Gray in Morgan Superior Court. The order also required Fox not to use power tools or start his motorcycle before 8:30 a.m., conditions the appeals panel also reversed.

Feuding Morgan County neighbors Fox and Tracy and Doug Bonam live in the Foxcliff Estates North community near Martinsville and had obtained protective orders against each other in the past. Tracy Bonam obtained the order in the instant case after alleging numerous instances she said constituted stalking.

The appeals panel agreed that Fox’s behavior – such as setting up bullet-marked bull’s-eye targets facing the Bonam’s property and close to the property line – constituted harassment and intimidation. However, restricting Fox’s use of his motorcycle and power tools went too far.   

The protection order against Fox cited the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) in ordering the sheriff to seize Fox’s firearms, but it didn’t cite state code. Fox “asserts that Indiana’s ‘protective order statutes as a whole make clear that (Indiana Code section) 34-26-5-9(f) is simply the state law vehicle to effectuate  the mandates of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), not an independent grant of authority to confiscate weapons every time a protective order is entered,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the panel.

“John’s argument is compelling, but we need not address it because the trial court relied solely on 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) in ordering him to surrender his firearms, and that statute does not apply in this case because Tracy is not John’s ‘intimate partner,’” as required by the federal code. “Therefore, we vacate that portion of the protective order,” Crone wrote.

The case is John A. Fox v. Tracy Bonam and Doug Bonam, 55A01-1503-PO-112.

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