A longtime criminal court judge in Cook County, Illinois, has been hit with a misdemeanor charge after he allegedly dropped his pistol onto the lobby floor of a Chicago courthouse.
Under Illinois state law, only on-duty law enforcement officers are allowed to carry firearms in a courthouse.
The office of Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart charged circuit court Judge Joseph Claps with the misdemeanor of carrying a concealed weapon in a prohibited area, based on an incident that took place around 11:45 a.m. July 3 and was caught on video. Claps, a former U.S. Army colonel who’s been on the criminal bench for more than 16 years, according to his LinkedIn profile, was scheduled to appear in court on July 19.
In a surveillance recording released by the sheriff’s office, Claps can be seen walking inside a lobby area of the Leighton Criminal Court building near the intersection of 26th Street and California Avenue in Chicago. Shortly after Claps passes what appears to be a reception desk, an item drops onto the floor of the lobby from within a coat the judge had slung over his arm. Claps then reaches down, picks up the item, tucks it into his pants pocket and continues walking through the building, according to the video recording.
An incident report from the county sheriff’s office confirms those details and describes the item in the video as a silver pistol. A second video released by the sheriff’s office appears to show Claps removing the gun from his pants pocket and tucking it under his arm as he approaches a set of elevators in the court building.
Two deputies witnessed the judge dropping the item in the lobby and picking it up, and reported it to their superiors, who later reviewed the surveillance video, according to the incident report. The judge had the proper licenses to carry a concealed weapon in general, but not within a court building, where only on-duty law enforcement officers are allowed to carry firearms under state law.
The Cook County sheriff’s office processed Claps on July 6 and released him on bond. The day before, the judge had called the supervising officer to discuss the situation, according to the incident report.
A spokeswoman for the Cook County sheriff’s office, Cara Smith, said the judge was “very cooperative” as the arrest was processed. She added that, based on her understanding, Claps has been placed on administrative duties, but she referred detailed questions on the judge’s status to the office of Timothy Evans, the chief judge on Cook County’s circuit court.
Representatives for the chief judge’s office weren’t immediately available for comment on Wednesday. Previously, the chief judge’s office told local media that Claps was reassigned last week to “non-judicial” duties.
The charge Claps faces under the Illinois concealed carry law is a class B misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of a $1,500 fine and up to six months’ imprisonment.