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Former State Senate candidate pleads guilty to possessing assault rifle

LOCKPORT – Gia M. Arnold, who ran for the State Senate in 2014 on a platform opposing New York's SAFE Act gun control law, pleaded guilty Wednesday to illegal possession of a semiautomatic assault rifle.

Arnold, 26, of Rochester, who was arrested last year in Niagara Falls after police found the gun in her vehicle, said she accepted a plea offer on the recommendation of her father.

"I did it to honor my family," Arnold said after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of attempted second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

The plea deal also involved the dismissal of all charges against Arnold's boyfriend, Halim Johnson, 19, of Centre Avenue in the Falls. He was at the wheel when the vehicle was pulled over for failure to signal a turn at Haeberle Avenue and 15th Street. Because he was in the vehicle with an illegal gun, he was charged with the same weapons counts as Arnold.

Johnson's charges are to be officially thrown out when Arnold is sentenced July 21 by State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski, whose options for Arnold range from five years of probation to seven years in prison.

Gia M. Arnold.

"What you do or don't do between now and sentencing affects what I do or don't do," Michalski warned Arnold, who remains free on $1,500 bail.

Asked if she was concerned that she might go to prison, Arnold replied, "I have no concerns."

The arrest occurred at about 10:15 p.m. Feb. 10, 2016.

The charges against Arnold did not include any violations of the SAFE Act, since she was indicted for possessing the rifle, not any high-capacity ammunition clips, according to Niagara County Assistant District Attorney Claudette S. Caldwell.

The plea was entered after Michalski rejected all challenges from defense attorney James M. Ostrowski to the legality of the traffic stop and the constitutionality of New York's gun laws.

Police officers testified that the rifle was lodged between the passenger seat and the door of the car, and was discovered when they opened the door to remove Arnold from the vehicle. Arnold had been telling Johnson not to answer questions and was disobeying instructions to keep her hands off the dashboard, the officers said during a pretrial hearing.

An ammunition clip was found in the passenger side cup holder of the 2009 Pontiac Vibe.

Arnold ran in the Republican primary for 62nd District senator in 2014, but lost to Robert G. Ortt, who won the general election. Arnold, who was married at the time, dropped out of the race temporarily after announcing that she had been having an extramarital affair, but later she resumed her campaign.

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