ITHACA, N.Y. — A man who illegally had a gun in an Ithaca hotel room last year was found guilty of unlawfully having the weapon when police arrived for a report of a domestic disturbance last year. The man’s defense? That he is an Aboriginal Native American who is not bound by United States laws.

On Aug. 21., Joaquin Jones was at the Meadow Court Inn, located at 529 S. Meadow St., when a disturbance was reported. Someone called police and said a woman screaming in the parking lot was pulled back into Room 13o.

When officers arrived, Ithaca Police Sgt. Derek Necheporek said, “When we came in, there was a lot of the stuff inside of the hotel…thrown around.”

Clothes were on the floor, a chair was tipped over, the mattress was askew, and a small black safe box was behind the door.

While the woman involved in the incident spoke with a female officer outside of the room, Necheporek spoke with Jones inside room as he began cleaning up and telling the officer what happened. 

I asked him what was the deal with the safe,” Necheporek said, noting that the safe kept the door from being completely opened. 

It’s then that Jones brought the safe to the bed and opened it. Sitting on top of a stack of papers in the safe, Necheporek said, was a silver handgun.

The officer said he began to draw his gun from his holster and asked Jones whether the gun in the safe was real and legally owned. Jones put his hands up and complied with the officer’s demands to step aside.

“That’s one of the things you want to tell me about before you reach into a safe,” Necheporek told him about the gun, keeping a level, clear voice throughout the incident.

Necheporek asked for the gun permit and Jones told him he didn’t have, nor did he need, a permit for the gun.

Jones was taken into custody and charged with third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, criminal possession of a firearm, and second-degree criminal contempt.

Jones repeatedly declined to get a lawyer and represented himself in court with lawyer Vinton Stevens as his attorney advisor.

“…I stand before you an innocent man…,” he told jurors during his opening statements.

He says he is an ancestor of the Moorish Empire, a historic civilization that ruled for thousands of years throughout the world and may have been indigenous people in the United States. though that claim is largely disputed among scholars. 

As an Aboriginal Native American, Jones said, he is not subject to United States Laws.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has described beliefs like Jones’ as radical sovereign citizens movement and is practiced by people of several races.

Related: Members of ‘Moorish’ groups and other black Americans are taking up the ideas of the radical ‘sovereign citizens’ movement

In an online article by the SPLC, they state, “That convergence may not be entirely surprising, given that the MSTA’s Noble Drew Ali taught that black “Moors” were America’s original inhabitants and are therefore entitled to self-governing, nation-within-a-nation status. (Many American black nationalist groups refer mistakenly to the people of northern Africa as black; in fact, the Moors were a mix of Arabs, Berbers and black people.) Today, black nationalists who see themselves as Moors and white sovereign citizens both believe they have key rights that pre-date by eons the present government.”

Judge John Rowley said several pieces of evidence Jones’ tried to submit into evidence are not recognized by law, such as documents Jonees tried to submit stating that he is in fact an Aboriginal Native American. The entire contents of those documents are not known because they were not accepted as evidence.

Without a proper defense attorney, a trial that was scheduled to last days lasted just a few hours. After a morning of jury selection, the trial began around 2 p.m. and lasted until about 3 p.m.

District Attorney Matt Van Houten called the officers at the scene as witnesses and showed jurors Necheporek’s body camera footage as evidence.

Jones called no witnesses to the stand and did not testify.

The jury reached a guilty verdict before 4 p.m.

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.