Intrepid investigative journalist Emily Miller is at it again, reporting on yet another case in which Washington D.C.’s draconian gun laws have made a criminal out of a law-abiding citizen.
The latest victim is a Mark Witaschek, a successful businessman with no criminal record, who now finds himself facing a two-year prison sentence for possessing unregistered ammunition in the District after police raided his home looking for firearms in 2012.
On July 7, 2012, approximately 30 police officers in full tactical gear raided Witaschek’s Georgetown home at 8:20 p.m., they were there to execute a search warrant for “firearms and ammunition … gun cleaning equipment, holsters, bullet holders and ammunition receipts.”
Witaschek’s 14-year-old daughter let the men inside. They immediately began searching the home, but not before handcuffing all those inside, including Witaschek, his girlfriend and the four children in the house, one of which was pulled from the shower.
“They used a battering ram to bash down the bathroom door and pull him out of the shower, naked,” said Witaschek, about his 16-year-old son. “The police put all the children together in a room, while we were handcuffed upstairs. I could hear them crying, not knowing what was happening.”
After tearing through the house, causing as much as $10,000 in damage, according to Witaschek, police recovered “One live round of 12-gauge shotgun ammunition, one handgun holster, one expended round of .270 caliber ammunition, and one box of Knight bullets for reloading.” However, no firearms were found.
Though, it didn’t matter that no firearms were recovered. In D.C. it is against the law for one to possess ammo, including spent shells and casings, for firearms that are not registered with Police. As the D.C. Criminal Code 7-2506.01 states:
Unlawful Possession of Ammunition (UA): It is illegal to possess ammunition in the District of Columbia unless the person is: (1) a licensed dealer, (2) a federal or city law enforcement officer acting within scope of duties, or (3) holder of a valid registration certificate of same gauge and caliber as ammunition in possession. It is also illegal to possess, sell or transfer any “large capacity ammunition feeding device.” A person guilty of this charge can be sentenced to a maximum fine of $1000 and/or up to a year imprisonment.
This wasn’t the first time Witaschek’s house was searched. A month earlier, in June, believing he had nothing to hide, Witaschek let the “Gun Recovery Unit” search his home. They found a box of Winchester .40 caliber ammunition, one gun-cleaning kit (fully legal) and a Civil War-era Colt antique revolver that he kept on his office desk.
Authorities seized the Colt even though it was an antique and did not have to be registered.
What prompted this interference from police was a compliant filed by Witaschek’s estranged wife, who obtained a restraining order after telling a court clerk that Witaschek had threatened her with a gun. A judge later ruled that the threat was without merit.
Still police pursued Witaschek. In July, they obtained a warrant to search Witaschek’s sister’s home in Virginia, where he kept all his firearms.
In the end, the Office of Attorney General of the District of Columbia Irvin Nathan signed an affidavit on Aug. 21, 2012, in support of an arrest warrant for Witaschek. They had him on the unregistered ammo charge. Witaschek turned himself in on Aug. 24. He spent the night in jail and then was released.
In September 2012, the attorney general offered Witaschek a deal in which he would have to plead guilty to one count of unlawful possession of ammunition, serve a year of probation, pay $500 find and make a contribution to a victims’s fund.
Witaschek rejected the offer. “It’s the principle,” he told Miller.
This year, in an attempt to force Witaschek’s hand, the D.C. attorney general added on another “unregistered ammo” charge from the first warrantless search (the box of .40 cal). But Witaschek did not cave under the pressure. He told Nathan that he’d take his chances in court.
The trial begins in just a few weeks on Nov. 4. Witaschek is facing a two-year sentence if he is found guilty.