Head of community group pleads guilty to weapons charge - The Buffalo News

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Head of community group pleads guilty to weapons charge

Only hours after receiving a civic group’s humanitarian award and being photographed with the mayor last July, the executive director of Urban Christian Ministries was arrested when bar employees told police he pointed a loaded rifle from his SUV as he drove past a Buffalo bar.

Police caught up to Alexander J. Wright, 34, a mile away. They found the rifle in the back seat and an open bottle of Jack Daniels on the front passenger floor.

When a police officer questioned him about the liquor, Wright “took what he was drinking and poured it out on the ground,” District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said.

Wright pleaded guilty last week to felony weapon possession.

Wright, who has spoken out against violence and weapons as the nonprofit organization’s executive director since May 2012, called having the rifle with him in the early morning hours of July 7 “a terrible decision.”

“I was stupid, and I shouldn’t have done that,” Wright told The Buffalo News on Thursday.

But he denied pointing the rifle at anyone.

“What idiot with a law degree waves a rifle in plain sight?” asked Wright, a 2008 University at Buffalo Law School graduate.

Wright had been at the bar at Genesee Street near Jefferson Avenue the night of July 6. Wright said no one asked him to leave the bar, but he said he was escorted out under protection because four men “were going to jump me.”

Wright said he returned later to pick up an intoxicated friend who needed a ride home, but he felt threatened in the neighborhood because of recent robberies that victimized a family member and a friend. That’s why he brought the rifle, he said.

“I should have depended on God to help me,” Wright said. “I was very nervous at that point. I shouldn’t have done it.”

He said he circled around the bar in his sport utility vehicle.

“I was driving slowly on the East Side, so I can see why someone would assume a gun,” Wright said.

“The reason I took a plea was not because I agree with the allegations, but I didn’t have $10,000 to go to trial,” he said. He also said he hoped the matter would be handled quietly so as not to jeopardize his career.

“In light of your impending article, I wish I had the money,” he said.

According to the police report, Wright drove past the bar in his 1998 Ford Expedition about 2:21 a.m. and pointed the .30-caliber carbine out of the vehicle’s window.

Bar employees called police and said his vehicle headed for a ramp to the Kensington Expressway.

A police officer spotted him a mile away exiting the expressway at Humboldt Parkway and pulled him over.

Hours earlier, on the night of July 6, Wright received the Community Humanitarian Award at the Fruit Belt Coalition’s recognition banquet, and photos were taken of him standing next to Mayor Byron W. Brown and State Sen. Tim Kennedy.

In Facebook posts since becoming the leader of Urban Christian Ministries, Wright has spoken out against guns.

“Where is the manhood in picking up a gun? There isn’t any unless you’re fighting for your country or defending your home,” he wrote a year ago.

In another post in July 2012 – five days before his arrest – Wright wrote, “it is impossible for the police to stop all the crime. They are outnumbered. It takes regular Joes and Janes. Shake your fear and take your neighborhood back.”

Urban Christian Ministries is supported by grants and contributions. Its 2011 federal tax form reported the organization collected $166,595 for the year.

The organization’s mission is “to improve lives through Christ,” and its volunteers and staffers have sponsored a food pantry and programs for youth.

Shortly after Wright became executive director, the organization sponsored a “Grill & A Prayer” program, in which ex-gang members and others delivered a message to the Fruit Belt neighborhood “that violence is not the answer.”

Wright said he hopes to keep his job because the organization “is doing such great work.”

“Sometimes good people make bad decisions,” he said.

He said the conviction and media attention “could ruin my life. But whatever comes of this, I’m man enough to take it on the chin.”

Third-degree criminal possession of a weapon carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years. Wright said he expects a sentence of probation but not prison when sentenced Dec. 12 by Erie County Judge Thomas P. Franczyk.

Assistant District Attorney Patrick B. Shanahan prosecuted the case.

In other cases, the District Attorney’s Office announced that the following people pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal possession of a weapon:

• Christopher Wheeler, 31, who was found with a loaded semiautomatic pistol and ammunition during a compliance check by his parole officer on Rommel Avenue.

• Lorenza Hinton of Kerns Street, who was found with a loaded .40-caliber handgun after fleeing from a traffic checkpoint set by Cheektowaga police near Pine Ridge Road.

• Jeffrey Simmons, 27, who was found with a semiautomatic pistol when Buffalo and Lackawanna police officers executed a search warrant at his Seneca Street apartment in Buffalo.

email: plakamp@buffnews.com

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