70-year-old Vietnam veteran Don Hall was shocked when deputies arrived at his Taberg, NY home one night to take his guns after he had wrongly been flagged “mentally defective”.
In an interview with Syracuse.com, Hall talks about his fight to figure out what went wrong, how authorities had the wrong man and what it took to get his guns back.
“I was guilty until I could prove myself innocent,” Hall said. “They don’t tell you why or what you supposedly did. It was just a bad screw-up.”
When Hall told police he’d never had any mental issues, Hall said, deputies told him he must have done something that triggered the order under the New York state’s SAFE Act.
The deputies left that night with six guns – two handguns and four long guns.
Hall hired a lawyer and secured affidavits from local hospitals to prove he hadn’t been recently treated – the only time he had been a patient at any of the hospitals was four years ago at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for a sleep apnea test.
At St. Elizabeth’s, Hall said a clerk looked up his name and read him a Social Security number. He said it was slightly different than his. “She turned white as a ghost,” Hall recalled.
St. Elizabeth Hospital in Utica has no knowledge of the misidentification error that Hall believes happened, according to Caitlin McCann, a spokeswoman for the Mohawk Valley Health System.
Armed with the information from the hospitals, Panzone wrote to Oneida County Judge Michael Dwyer who ruled Hall should have his firearms returned to him in April. At first, Hall was told he could only have his pistols and his long rifles were going to be turned over to a gun shop. But almost immediately, he got a call saying he could have all his firearms back.
Eventually, his lawyer convinced a judge that authorities had him confused with someone else who had sought care and that his weapons should never have been seized.
To this day, no one at a hospital or the state and local agencies involved in taking Hall’s guns has admitted to Hall that a mistake was made, explained what happened or apologized. A county judge did acknowledge the mistake and helped him get his guns back.