In a stunning move, the US District Court of Western Michigan have ruled the police have legal authority to detain individuals who exercise their rights under both the US and Michigan constitutions to open carry a gun.
You may recall the story of Johann Deffert, which I reported on last year. Mr. Deffert was minding his own business walking down the street in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was lawfully open carrying a holstered handgun at the time. Watch the video below.
However, Grand Rapids Police Officer William Moe responded to a woman’s 911 call to report Deffert simply because he had a gun. When the officer arrived, he did witness that Deffert had a handgun and that he appeared to be “talking to himself.” Consider that a church service was taking place nearby. No one though the man might actually be praying. However, all Deffert had done was go to breakfast and was on his way home.
In any case, Officer Moe acted as a complete tyrant. He drew his weapon, aimed it at Deffert, forced him to the ground and blasted him for getting “everybody fired up around here.”
As for the charge of Deffert “talking to himself,” it has come to light that he was merely singing “Hakuna Matata” from the Disney film “The Lion King.” Yeah, that sounds threatening, don’t you think?
The federal court ruled last week that officers can stop you for simply exercising your right to keep and bear arms. They don’t have to have any other reason.
In the complaint, which was filed against the city, Police Chief Kevin Belk, Sgt. LaBrecque, Moe and Johnston, Deffert alleged that his constitutional rights were violated and he was assaulted and falsely imprisoned. According to the court documents, the legality of open carry in the state was never in question, only if law enforcement had the authority to detain an individual simply because they were open carrying a firearm.
U.S. District Judge Janet Neff determined that yes, officers do have that authority. Neff said the officers were “justified in following up on the 911 call and using swift action to determine whether [Deffert’s] behavior gave rise to a need to protect or preserve life … in the neighborhood.”
Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, told USA Today, that acts of open carry, which are increasing in the area, are causing an unnecessary rift. He said those who participate in open carry are attempting to draw attention to themselves and “needlessly alarming people.” He added that people aren’t generally comfortable with or accustomed to the idea of seeing someone with a gun walking around near places such as schools.
“It puts the police in a position where we don’t know what their intent is, so they’re going to approach this person, not realizing that the intent is to hurt somebody,” Stevenson said. “It’s a terrible situation what these people are doing, somebody is going to get hurt.”
But that’s just it. No one was about to be hurt, until the police office drew his weapon against Mr. Deffert. Things were quiet and no one was in any danger.
Judge Janet Neff wrote that police officers are “justified in following up on the 9-1-1 call and using swift action to determine whether [Deffert’s] behavior gave rise to a need to protect or preserve life … in the neighborhood.”
Really? If that is the case, are they justified in detaining a person when they go outside and sing? How about when they peacefully assemble in a church? No one is breaking the law in those situations. Would 911 tell callers to simply mind their own business? That’s what they should do.
However, Neff added that officers need to “determine whether [Deffert’s] behavior gave rise to a need to protect or preserve life … in the neighborhood, they need not impeded a citizen from going about their legitimate and legal business.”
The problem becomes two-fold here. The right of a citizen to keep and bear arms is not, in and of itself, something illegal, nor should it be looked at in that manner. Second, to stop someone for acting illegally and to treat them in such a manner as was done by Officer Moe seems to me to be a violation of the Fifth Amendment as well since there is no real “probably cause.”
Michigan State Sen. Mike Green said he believes in the rights of the citizens to arm themselves and has even proposed a bill that would recognize the right of teachers to carry concealed in schools.
The stop was illegal. The cop was out of line, but the mayor and police department stood behind his actions.
The case will be appealed in the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Several pro-gun groups have offered their assistance in the case.