It was Tuesday night when an anonymous caller reported seeing two men walking along the Mississippi River levee dressed in military gear and carrying rifles.
LSU police soon responded and found them sitting on a bench near some flagpoles. Two rifles were close by, according to a police report, as officers began to question the men.
It was about 10:30 p.m., and the men were at the rest area on the levee near the intersection of River Road and Skip Bertman Drive. Police asked the men “why they were on the levee on LSU’s campus with rifles,” the report says, although the levee technically isn’t on the school’s campus.
The men, later identified as Andrew Edwin Watts Jr. and Jonathan David Klein, said they regularly walked the levee with their rifles. They were part of a “militia” and “the chief of police” gave them permission to make the hike, according to the report.
Watts, 45, was carrying a loaded semi-automatic rifle and a loaded semi-automatic pistol, the report said, while Klein, 28, was carrying a bolt-action rifle.
Police seized the weapons and ammunition and, “upon further investigation, it was determined that they had not received permission and were in violation of state law,” LSU police said in a news release.
Arrest warrants were issued for Watts and Klein, and both Baton Rouge men were booked Wednesday into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on a count of carrying a firearm in a firearm-free zone. Bail was set at $10,000 for each man, booking records show.
Openly carrying firearms, including high-powered rifles, is legal in Louisiana except in a few places where its specifically prohibited, such as schools and bars.
But even though Watts and Klein weren’t technically on LSU’s campus, Ernie Ballard, an LSU spokesman, said state law prohibits the carrying of firearms within 1,000 feet of firearm-free zones. Because the school’s campus is such a zone, and the two men were within 1,000 feet of campus, they were arrested, police said.
The state Legislature has, in the past, considered measures that would allow concealed weapons on campuses, although no such proposal has come up during the current legislative session.
There are many signs posted on LSU’s campus declaring the area a firearm-free zone, but no such signs sit near the levee. However, there are signs near the rest area prohibiting parking along the levee and warning passersby about feeding horses, which “see your fingers as carrots,” a sign says.
The police report does not indicate whether Watts and Klein were ever warned about potentially being too close to a firearm-free zone to carry a rifle.
LSU police deferred comment about the incident to the school’s media relations department.
Watts, 16052 Woodlawn Acres, posted bail Thursday. He declined to comment Friday on the incident.
Klein, 600 Wooddale Blvd., remained jailed Friday afternoon in lieu of $10,000 bail.
Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter, @_BenWallace. Advocate staff writer Elizabeth Crisp contributed to this report.