New Jersey Prosecutors Drop Case Against Gun-Carrying Security Guard Who Had Permit to Carry Firearm

Roosevelt Twyne
Roosevelt Twyne, 25, was pulled over on February 8, 2020, while transporting his weapon home from work, although authorities said it was outside of the lockbox he also had with him. Courtesy of Evan Nappen

New Jersey prosecutors dropped a felony charge against a security guard who was pulled over for driving with tinted windows and then charged with violating gun laws, prosecutors informed Newsweek on Friday. Roosevelt Twyne's case illustrates how the state's intricate gun restrictions can ensnare residents, multiple experts said.

Roselle Park police officers stopped Twyne, 25, in early February as he was returning home from work in his personal vehicle because, they said, he was driving with tinted windows. Twyne, a black man who works for the Brinks armored car company, was also transporting a handgun he believed he was legally permitted to carry for his job under the state's restrictive licensing laws.

However, officers charged him with two gun-related offenses: One violation of the state's firearm transport ban and another pertaining to hollow point bullets. The latter charge was dropped after Union County prosecutors decided the ammunition Twyne was carrying was not illegal. Until Friday, prosecutors were seeking an additional charge on the transport ban.

"I was simply a block away from getting home after work," Twyne told Newsweek. "I never thought I would be arrested, charged and have my life turned upside down over New Jersey's convoluted gun laws, especially when I was a fully licensed, trained security officer."

The prosecutor's office said Friday it concluded that his alleged breach of the law was not intentional.

"This Office has elected to exercise its prosecutorial discretion and has administratively dismissed all charges pending against Mr. Twyne," the office said in a statement to Newsweek. "It is not in the interests of justice to continue his prosecution."

Prosecutors would not comment further on the case or about the matters in this story.

However, attorneys familiar with the case say that Union County had been pursuing a fraught prosecution from the very start and that Twyne's case illustrates the problems that often arise from New Jersey's complex gun-control laws, which are among the most restrictive in the nation.

Questions remain, for example, about whether the Union County Prosecutor's Office sufficiently understood the laws it was trying to enforce, legal experts said.

Dan Schmutter, a lawyer who regularly practices in the state's gun laws, called part of their reasoning "incoherent" and said it "does not reflect how New Jersey gun laws work."

For example, in an initial statement emailed to Newsweek, the Union County Prosecutor's Office described New Jersey law as allowing "the transport of a firearm home, from a place of employment" in certain circumstances. However, New Jersey gun laws make reference to a "place of business," a term that the state's appellate courts have found applies only to business owners.

The phrases appear to be synonymous, but legal experts agree that they're not, and if they are confused, it could produce unintended consequences.

"I think the prosecutor's office is using that term interchangeably in their statement," Remi Spencer, a criminal defense attorney who was an assistant prosecutor for Union County from 2003 to 2005, told Newsweek. "But I don't think it's interchangeable."

Attorneys also pointed out a problem with a provision in the law known as the safe transport requirement. Twyne was pulled over while transporting his weapon home from work, although authorities said it was outside of the lockbox he also had with him. This provision outlining the specific manner in which gun owners in certain circumstances must transport their weapons—unloaded and in a locked container—is referenced heavily in the prosecutors' initial statement.

These requirements, some lawyers said, are necessary to avoid being charged with a completely separate crime that is unrelated to this case. It was not clear why prosecutors believed Twyne should have been observing them.

"New Jersey gun law is drafted terribly and contains many seemingly inconsistent and contradictory provisions," Schmutter explained. "The state's gun laws are a mess. And it has many traps for the unwary."

Spencer said the law operated a bit differently than that and that Twyne should have been transporting his gun safely. However, she said that the competing interests at play make it difficult to judge the fact pattern head-on.

"New Jersey wants to make sure people transport their guns in the safest way possible. That's the reason a well-meaning prosecutor might find that it is in the interests of justice to take up this case," she said. "But I do see both sides of this one, I really do."

The attorneys Newsweek spoke with acknowledged multiple difficulties in deciphering the law. There was little consensus among them about applying routine provisions of the gun code.

In October 2019, a New Jersey Superior Court judge issued an order granting Twyne a handgun carry permit, which is when certain limitations were imposed. Evan Nappen, Twyne's attorney, said that his client was not in attendance at the October hearing and never received a complete copy of the judicial order.

The judge's order said that Twyne was only permitted to carry "while in the performance of duties during working hours" and that Brinks "will be responsible for the adequate safeguarding of the weapon during periods when employee is off duty."

S. Emile Lisboa, a criminal defense attorney who also worked as an assistant Union County prosecutor, had a completely different theory about how Twyne should have been observing New Jersey's gun laws. Lisboa said that a court restriction on Twyne's permit to carry was more likely the basis for the alleged offense.

"Although well-intended, the gun laws then as now are poorly drafted and complicated," Lisboa said. "Frequently the police cannot, or do not, understand the laws and charge people that should not be charged."

The law, however, is not without its defenders. Theodore J. Romankow, who served as the chief prosecutor in Union County for over a decade in the aughts, believes that New Jersey's gun laws are an immensely useful prosecutorial tool that can help deter and punish criminals. He told Newsweek that in his experience, most defendants charged with gun crimes were willful violators of the law.

Nappen believes, rather, that his client is a victim of the state's complex licensing processing. He argues that a restriction on Twyne's permit would render it effectively unusable, putting his client in a Catch-22 scenario: Able to carry at work, but unable to transport it home.

"How do you give him a license to do this and then don't allow him to go to work and then come back from work?" Nappen said. "The limitation that the state is trying to place on his license makes the license utterly useless this case."

Nappen said he feels that the gun laws in New Jersey may, in some respects, be designed to evade governmental accountability. He pointed out how gun permit applications are treated as confidential, preventing outside groups from scrutinizing the process. He believes that this is not, in fact, done to ensure confidentiality but to evade fairness.

Lisboa, the former Union County prosecutor, echoed these sentiments of cronyism many say infect the labyrinth of statutes comprising New Jersey's firearms code.

"No one else will be approved" for a carry permit beyond a select few security officials, Lisboa argued.

"The law says if you have a justifiable need you can be approved as well," he added. "My personal opinion is that this was written in the law to make it appear consistent with the Second Amendment. However, I have never met a New Jersey resident that has been approved for a justifiable need carry permit."

There are fewer than 600 in the state, according to Nappen. For the most part, residents who want to carry are forced to do so through one of the narrow exemptions that have entangled this case.

"There are no guarantees in the law generally, but there are certainly no guarantees in the gun laws here," Schmutter said. "Being a gun owner in New Jersey is fraught with risk."

Correction March 13, 2020, 12:07 p.m.: A previous version of this article inadvertently attributed a quote from Evan Nappen to Dan Schmutter.