Saturday, August 06, 2005

Self-defense drill draws police response

A family vacation for Scott Turner, owner of Turner's Taekwondo Inc., came to a quick end when he received a call from one of his instructors saying his students, practicing gun self-defense, had just been handcuffed and held on the ground at gunpoint by Albany police.

"I thought they were joking," Turner said Thursday. But he soon realized there was truth to the story.

The students were detained briefly at the scene but then released with citations for disorderly conduct.

Turner, who says he has respect for the police department and understands why officers responded the way they did, doesn't understand why citations were issued.

According to an Albany police report, the department received one call from a driver on Queen Avenue reporting an armed disturbance at about 7 p.m. July 29, near the Four Seasons Car Wash, 1070 Queen Ave. S.E.

Police Capt. Ben Atchley said Friday the department may have received other calls as well.

What people saw, Turner said, was five students and an instructor participating in a martial arts exercise in an alley behind Karate For Kids, 1711 Hill St. S.E.

The students were practicing Krav Maga, a martial art that teaches, among other tactics, how to defend against someone approaching with a gun or knife, Turner explained.

The students, ages 17 to 45, were practicing with air soft guns, which were marked to signify they were unloaded or being used for practice, Turner said.

"Officers arrived on scene and observed people who appeared to have weapons in the back alley," Atchley said Friday.

The officers thought they had a possible robbery or gang activity, according to the police report.

The students and instructor were all ordered on the ground at gunpoint and handcuffed, according to the report.

Turner said that a 5-year-old girl, the daughter of one of the students, was patted down by police.

The report made no mention of that but did note that a child was found behind a Dumpster.

Five airsoft guns were seized by police, according to the report.

The officers learned that the activity was part of the Krav Maga class, but the supervising officer decided to issue a citation to all six people for disorderly conduct.

The citations were given because the activity, which could be seen from Queen Avenue S.E., "raised public alarm," Atchley said.

The department also used a tremendous amount of resources to respond to the activity, Atchley said.

If there was a major event occurring elsewhere in the city, Atchley said, the question is whether police would have been able to respond with only half the department available.

"By doing what they did, they diminished our ability to respond somewhere else," he said.

Turner understands why the police responded the way they did.

"Albany police did exactly what I would have expected them to do," Turner said. "I fully understand."

What Turner, and others in the class, don't understand is the citations.

Turner said his students are professionals in the community. "They are really good people. I have a lot of respect for them," he said.

When asked why all the students received citations and not just the instructor, Atchley said he wasn't there and that the decision was made by the supervising officer.

"I feel so bad for my students," Turner said. "If anyone has to get in trouble I would want it to be myself or the school."

He and the others in the class said they are hopeful the charges will be dismissed once they appear in Albany Municipal Court.

A conviction of disorderly conduct carries a maximum fine of $2,500 and maximum jail time of six months.

Turner has operated his martial arts business in Albany for 12 years.

During all that time, students have practiced tactics outside, Turner said.

The alley, with graffiti and wire fencing, gives students a different environment from the matted floors inside.

The irony, Turner pointed out, is that his students have probably never been in an alley at any other time in their lives.

Turner said officers have driven by at other times, and watched them or asked what was going on, but no one had ever been issued a citation or even been told to go inside.

Now several of his students have canceled their membership, Turner said. "I can't blame them."

He noted that one of the students originally came to his school because of its good reputation.

A call to the police department or signs in the alley stating that training was in session could have prevented the whole episode, Atchley said.

"There was no indication to us this was a training exercise."

Turner said he has not spoken with anyone at the police department since the incident.

And while martial arts classes continue as usual, outdoor exercises will be held inside until the incident is resolved, he said


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