When 33-year-old Jersey City resident and gun owner Keith Pantaleon went to bed on January 24, he never imagined he would spend the next 35 days in a prison cell.
Pantaleon, an African-American Wall Street technology specialist who told The Daily Caller he was threatened by police during his arrest, is a victim of “draconian” and possibly even racist law enforcement, according to his attorney. Police were in his home without a warrant when they discovered what the attorney says were his legally purchased firearms.
“What they did was criminal at best,” Pantaleon said, describing how he frantically reached for a day planner containing his firearm when he heard strange noises at the entrance to his apartment.
“It wasn’t until I saw my landlord in the front of my apartment that I realized they were cops,” said Pantaleon. He then tossed the day planner back on his bed, came out of his bedroom and tried to close the door, when one of the officers pushed past him into the bedroom, picked up the day planner case and opened it. Upon seeing the gun, the police officer instructed the other deputy to “lock him the f*ck up,” Pantaleon claimed.
Police had been called to the apartment by a tenant concerned that the building was not properly heated. Officers demanded access to Pantaleon’s apartment because the boiler was located in it.
“The cop came out of the bedroom and started saying, ‘Oh, you brought a gun, if I only knew. … You are so lucky, they should be wiping your blood off the floor right now,'” Pantaleon said. “I was in shock, and the way these guys were behaving … I was in fear for my life.”
Police went on to thoroughly search his home.
“They had no warrant, they definitely didn’t have my consent, and none of the arresting officers Mirandized me. It wasn’t until I saw a detective from a major crimes unit that he Mirandized me, a little over 15 hours later,” said Pantaleon. “What good are my rights if I’m not allowed to exercise them?”
The officers found Pantaleon’s other firearms and ammunition, which his attorney, Evan Nappen, said were completely legal.
Officers then took Pantaleon to police headquarters and charged him with the unlawful possession of a variety of items, including two handguns, a rifle, an “assault rifle,” a large-capacity magazine, and certain ammunition.
The assault rifle is an AR-15, which Nappen said is “one of the most commonly owned rifles in America.”
“Being in your home is an exemption for possession of handguns, rifles and shotguns. They poured on absolutely false charges. The handgun charges have no basis whatsoever,” said Nappen.
Pantaleon said the officers knew the charges were false.
“I heard these two cops speaking to each other a couple doors down from me, when I was in lockup at the West District. A couple hours after they pulled me out of my home and threw me into the cage in their precinct … one of them said, ‘I know these charges are BS, but this is what you have to do if you want to be a cop-cop.’”
Pantaleon said he doesn’t know for sure why the officers reacted in such a hostile manner.
“Let’s see, a black guy with guns, in Jersey City, in the middle of the night? Take your pick,” he said. “Would their reaction have been different if I was not black? I don’t know. What I can answer is, they broke into my house, they’re the ones who committed the crimes that night, and I’m the one who ended up in jail for 35 days.”
According to Pantaleon, both of the arresting officers “appeared to be white.”
“There is no question that the history of gun control is replete with racism — that’s a fact,” said Nappen. “It’s an outrageous situation. A guy’s in his own home, minding his own business. … From the beginning it’s just a nightmare for the guy, and [New Jersey’s] gun laws are so draconian. It’s astounding how awful they are.”
Pantaleon has no prior criminal convictions and no mental health history. He is not accused of misusing or threatening to use any firearms. His bail was set at $75,000, cash or bond — outside of Pantaleon’s price range.
“It’s astounding when a bail is set at $75,000, for simple possession charges,” said Nappen.
Nappen, who was hired with help from the website’s funds, was able to win a motion to lower the bail, and secured Pantaleon’s release on his own recognizance. Pantaleon was finally released from prison on February 27, after spending more than a month in jail.
According to Pantaleon, he lost his apartment as well as his job while imprisoned, and he is currently struggling to move forward despite now having a felony record and no source of income.
“Even with [the release on bail], you still need a substantial amount of money to fight these types of cases,” said Nappen.
“This man is what I’d have to call a law-abiding criminal, thanks to New Jersey’s gun laws,” he added.