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Former candidate pleads not guilty to gun charge

Posted at 7:25 PM, Feb 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-16 22:16:44-05

Gia Arnold pleaded not guilty on Tuesday morning to possession of an assault weapon and obstruction of justice.

On February 10th, the former State Senate candidate and another man were arrested after Niagara Falls Police found two guns, a combat knife and a ski mask inside Arnold's car.

You may remember Arnold from the race for the 62nd District State Senate seat. The then 24-year-old was hoping to replace long-time State Senator George Maziarz after he announced he would not seek reelection.

Arnold was running in the Republican primary on a pro-gun rights, but dropped out after an extramarital affair came to light. She later re-entered the race, saying her constituents backed her in spite of her infidelity.

She was easily defeated by Robert Ortt, then mayor of North Tonawanda. He went on to win the seat in the 62nd District.

The SAFE Act, New York's controversial gun control law, has become front and center again as prosecutors build a case against Arnold.

As Arnold walked into the courtroom, she hid behind a handful of supporters. One of them wore an anti-SAFE Act shirt. As he walked out, he stated, "Honor the Second Amendment."

During the arraignment and afterwards, Arnold remained quiet.

Judge Diane Vitello ruled against a defense motion to throw out both charges. Attorney James Ostrowski had argued that there was not enough evidence that the AR-15 found in Arnold's car violated the SAFE Act. However, sources explained to 7 Eyewitness News that the design of the gun is illegal.

Ostrowski also said that the obstruction of justice charge is unconstitutional. He said that it stemmed from Arnold talking during a police interview with her co-defendant.

"That's free speech under the first amendment," Ostrowski told 7 Eyewitness News after court. "You can talk to the police in America, until further notice."

The Niagara County District Attorney's Office, however, said that she was interrupting a police officer's job.

Vitello lowered Arnold's bail from $5,000 to $1,500, meaning she will be able to get some of the money back.

Arnold also has more money coming in for help. A fundraising website has raised nearly $3,700 in support for her defense team.

The organizer of that fundraiser page, Andrew Hollister, told 7 Eyewitness News, "We believe that it's unconstitutional and unjust, so we help those who are being taken advantage of."

The Niagara Falls Police Department said it cannot comment because this is an ongoing case.

Arnold will be back in court in March for a preliminary hearing.

Also arrested was 18-year-old Halim Johnson. His connection to Arnold is unclear but he was in her vehicle and is also charged with third degree criminal possession of an assault weapon. He may be eligible for youthful offender status.