Charges have been dropped against an 18-year-old man who took an Airsoft rifle -- which shoots BBs or pellets -- to Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
The teen, Max Hoemke, was arrested by Scottsdale police on August 11 after a group of hikers became scared of him. Hoemke was dressed in military fatigues as he carried the mean-looking gun and a simulated explosive device strapped to his leg.
Sergeant Mark Clark of the Scottsdale police tells us this morning that Hoemke was arrested based on the victims' complaints. One hiker told a 911 dispatcher she believed Hoemke had pointed a weapon at them, though apparently the claim was never substantiated.
What is known is that the group of four hikers saw Hoemke on the Sunrise Trail and began running. Hoemke also began running, though not necessarily after the hikers. Police showed up at the desert park and arrested Hoemke "based on the totality of circumstances," Clark says. The young man was booked into the city jail and quickly released, though it appeared for a time he would be prosecuted for disorderly conduct.
That won't happen now, according to a statement on the Scottsdale police Web site:
In the days following this incident, the Police Department consulted with the city prosecutor's office, Max Hoemke and his family about the circumstances which caused his arrest. All parties have agreed that criminal charges in this matter are not in the best interest of justice. Therefore, the Scottsdale Police Department is recommending that charges be dropped.
Clark tells us that a sign in the park warns that Airsoft rifles are not permitted, though he says some folks debate the validity of that ordinance. The rule is in place because "we don't want plastic BBs or paint" in the park, he says.
We thought this case sounded like an over-reaction when we first heard of it, though without the full details we couldn't be sure.
The weirdest part of the story, perhaps, was that another man brought a real semi-automatic rifle to the Phoenix Convention Center, where President Barack Obama was speaking, on the same day -- but he wasn't arrested.
Trouble is, both of these stories are like an inadvertent crying of wolf. Next time someone sees a dude with what looks like an assault rifle in public, maybe no one will call police -- and that's when the bullets will start flying.