Masten Council Member Ulysees O. Wingo "did commit a crime" when he brought a loaded gun to Riverside High School last week, but he will not be charged, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said Thursday.
During an afternoon news conference, Flynn said Wingo broke a law that says it is illegal to knowingly possess a gun on school property unless you have written permission.
"And that's a key phrase," Flynn said, referring to the need for written permission.
But Flynn, noting the steps Wingo took to safely store the gun, said it was a matter of using his "prosecutorial discretion and using a little common sense" in deciding not to charge.
When Wingo — who has a permit to carry a gun — arrived on the school grounds, he immediately realized he had a gun on him and told the principal he forgot he had the weapon, Flynn said.
The magazine was removed from the weapon, put in a sealed envelope and given to the secretary, who put the envelope in her desk, Flynn said. The gun was locked in a safe in the office. After the school assembly, Wingo retrieved the gun and left the building.
Flynn said Wingo had verbal authorization when the principal told Wingo he could put the gun in the safe.
"It's not written permission, but it's permission," Flynn said.
"Obviously Councilman Wingo made a mistake here. He should have turned around right away once he knew he had a gun and walked out of school and put it in his car," Flynn said. "I understand it's unsafe to put a loaded gun in your car in case someone steals it. I get that. So he should have gotten in his car and went home and put it in his house."
When contacted for a response after Flynn's decision, Wingo had no immediate comment.
Flynn said the fact that Wingo is a Council member had no bearing on his decision not to file charges.
"If it would have been a parent who did the same thing I would have the same result here today. I can honestly say definitely that it had no bearing on me," Flynn said.
But another valid question, Flynn added, is did the principal give Councilman Wingo any deference because of his status?
"If a father or a mother had walked in with that gun and done the same thing, would the principal have allowed him or her to put it in the safe or been told to get out?" Flynn asked.
Wingo has been barred from all Buffalo Public Schools properties since the incident last week. A school district spokesperson said Thursday that Wingo is still barred, unless he gets the superintendent's written permission, despite Flynn's decision. The principal remains on administrative leave while the school district completes its investigation.
Law enforcement sources had said the district did not notify authorities until a couple of days after the incident. However, the district also said Thursday that was inaccurate, and that the district called 911 the following day as soon as central office officials were made aware of the incident, and that there is a recording of the call.
Wingo stepped down as chairman of the Council's Education Committee until the investigation ended. Council President Darius G. Pridgen said by text late Thursday there will be no immediate changes on the committee and that he will discuss what's best for the committee with Council leadership and with Wingo.