Smoking charge questioned for Newport News man

NEWPORT NEWS – The good news for Jarry K. Ratliff is that he might avoid the $25 fine he faces for smoking in a local McDonald’s last week.

The bad news? He still faces armed robbery, abduction and gun charges that could land him in prison for a long time.

Ratliff, 27, a McDonald’s employee, was discovered as a fugitive Oct. 26. That came after a Newport News police officer at the drive-through of McDonald’s, on Jefferson Avenue in Denbigh, spotted Ratliff lighting up a cigarette inside.

In issuing Ratliff a smoking summons, Officer Matthew Andreoli and Sgt. Daniel Butler ran Ratliff’s name through a national database of fugitives, finding he was wanted in an armed robbery outside a Norfolk motel in 2004.

One possible problem is the law appears to require that smokers be given a chance to put the cigarette out before being ticketed. “Any person who continues to smoke in such area after having been asked to refrain from smoking may be subject to a civil penalty of not more than $25,” the law says.

Andreoli acknowledges he never asked Ratliff to put out the cigarette before writing him up, said police spokesman Officer Harold Eley. “The officer issued the summons based on his interpretation of the statute,” Eley said. On whether the charge will hold up, Eley said, “We’ll see when it goes to court.”

A local defense attorney, Robert W. Lawrence, said any potential issue with the smoking summons won’t be enough to jeopardize the validity of the robbery arrest. Eley stood by the officers’ work. “This was absolutely great police work,” he said.

Eley said that Ratliff was charged under the state’s existing anti-smoking statute — not the one that goes into effect Dec. 1.

The current law says people can’t smoke in “no smoking” areas. The new law, passed earlier this year, bans smoking in most restaurants unless the smoking section is physically blocked off.

source: http://www.dailypress.com

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