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Off-duty jailer who wielded gun at Iowa car show now charged

July 23, 2019

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — After initially saying he acted in self-defense, police on Tuesday charged an off-duty jail employee who had been drinking when he brandished a handgun during a fight at a crowded Iowa car show.

The Iowa State Fair Police Department announced that John McCormick is charged with assault while displaying a dangerous weapon, carrying a weapon under the influence and impersonating a peace officer.

The charges come after some witnesses said they were outraged that McCormick created a public safety scare but wasn’t arrested for the July 6 incident at the Good Guys car show in Des Moines. They questioned whether McCormick had been given special treatment since he works for the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and whether the fair’s 1-year-old police force was capable of handling such an incident.

Thousands of spectators and cars were at the show, a popular annual tradition, when McCormick became angry with a driver who was performing burnout stunts in a classic car. McCormick believed the driver, 69-year-old James Welshons, was threatening the safety of nearby children. Others disputed that and a fight ensued.

Witnesses said McCormick ultimately pulled and waved a concealed personal handgun, made threats against Welshons and told the crowd that he was a sheriff’s deputy. Three people called 911 to report a man with a gun as some bystanders yelled and ran away.

McCormick, who is 45 and a resident of Madrid, has said he wasn’t the “primary aggressor” in the fight and that he pulled the weapon in self-defense to protect himself and his wife as the crowd grew.

He has also said that he had been drinking but was not intoxicated and was allowed by police to drive home. Charging documents weren’t available Tuesday, and it’s unclear whether he was given a breath test or how police intend to prove he was under the influence. One witness told a 911 dispatcher that McCormick was “plastered.”

State Fair Police Commander Doug Phillips said initially that McCormick wasn’t charged because he feared for his life and that there were conflicting accounts of the fight’s origin.

Police kicked McCormick and Welshons out of the fairgrounds, where guns are banned by policy, and seized McCormick’s handgun and permit to carry. But neither faced criminal charges and McCormick got his gun back days later.

In a statement Tuesday, the fair police said that further investigation turned up new witnesses who provided statements and gave additional information about what occurred. The statement also defended the police response, saying officers arrived “within minutes and quickly took control of the situation.”

Boone County Sheriff Gregg Elsberry said earlier this month that McCormick would not face disciplinary action following a review of the incident. He didn’t immediately respond to questions about whether that’s changed now that he faces charges.

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