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Gun found in dorm room of MTSU student who is elected constable


State law gives law enforcement officers the authority to carry a weapon on a college campus both on- and off-duty, but what about an elected constable?

Middle Tennessee State University officials are trying to figure that out after a gun was found in the dorm room of a student who happens to be an elected constable.

Joshua Nelson, 23, is a full-time criminal justice major at MTSU and was elected District 1 Constable in Hickman County six months ago.

But last week, campus police noticed his car was equipped with law enforcement gear in the parking lot of Schardt Hall. When they made contact with him, they also found a gun in his dorm room, something campus housing prohibits.

"When we're talking about weapons being in a housing area in close, confined spaces, we take very seriously the safety of the students," said Jimmy Hart of MTSU news and media relations.

According to the police report: "The constable was asked to remove his weapon from campus. Elected official is allowed to carry a weapon inside the jurisdiction where elected as part of official duty. Not allowed to have the weapon on campus as a student resident."

But there are some exceptions with on- and off-duty law enforcement officers.

"That's the situation that we are looking at here," Hart said. "What's the definition of a constable and does it fall within that exception?"

Nelson said there's no doubt he is a law enforcement officer with full arrest power. He said during a telephone interview, "I'm obligated to have it (gun) with me at all times, according to state law (TCA 39171350). You are directed to be armed at all times except when you are crossing state lines."

Back in 2009, the Tennessee Board of Regents asked for an opinion from the state attorney general on whether it could prohibit off-duty officers from carrying a firearm on campus. The answer was no.

Students said if the rule applies for them, it should also apply for the constable.

"Constables are not giving citations inside dorm rooms, so I don't see a need for a gun," student Brendan Herr said.

Nelson will not be charged criminally for having the gun on campus, but he faces a hearing before judicial affairs. He could receive no punishment at all, a verbal warning or get kicked out of the dorm.

Constables in Tennessee don't have to be Peace Officers Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) Commission-certified like other law enforcement officers.

Nelson said he wasn't required to go to a police academy, but he does have 40 hours of in-service hours, which are required by the state. He said in addition to serving summons, he also writes citations and performs other law enforcement duties.

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