Legal Gun Owners Fight Local Authorities over Gun Confiscations

Gun confiscation by law enforcement of legal firearms increasing in gun restrictive states like New York and California may not be surprising. However, legally armed individuals in states with more Second Amendment friendly laws may find that local law enforcement may seize their firearms even when no crime has been committed.

Dean Weingarten at Ammoland notes a number of cases where such instances have occurred. In late November, furniture store owner Eric Lee of Dekalb County, Georgia was thrown into jail for loitering and carrying a gun on his own property, WSBTV reported. Lee filed a federal lawsuit in November claiming his constitutional rights were violated when his gun was not immediately returned to him after the case was dismissed. 

According to WSBTV, Lee said he had a conceal carry permit and bought a gun because his store was targeted by robbers numerous times in the past. Lee was arrested by local authorities one evening when he heard people making noises on his property. 

"They (the police) just pulled in and said, ‘What is going on? What is going on? Hands up, Anybody have any weapon?’ I said I have a gun. They just grabbed me, took my gun and threw me in the car,” Lee said.

Although Lee told police he had a permit, authorities cited him for loitering. Additionally, Lee’s truck was towed from his own property. WSBTV obtained a police report in which an officer wrote: “While taking Mr. Lee into custody, I could smell a strong smell of an alcoholic beverage.’

Lee, however, said the smell of alcohol came from drunk and vomiting homeless people on his property who were also taken into custody and were standing near him. Apologizing to Lee later on, a judge dismissed the case against the businessman. 

However, Lee fought for more than a year to get his firearm returned, an apology from the arresting officers, and a reimbursement for the cost of paying for towing his truck.

Another case in Cleveland, reported by The Cleveland Plain Dealer, was settled in November, which outraged Second Amendment activists regarding an obscure city ordinance that allows local authorities to seize weapons from an individual until a "court of competent jurisdiction’' mandates the city to give the weapons back.

Krysta Sutterfield, 43, a Milwaukee resident, was found not guilty of carrying a concealed weapon earlier in the fall, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in July of 2012:

It was the second time her gun-wearing habit had gotten her arrested, and the second time she avoided conviction. The Milwaukee nursing student and firearms safety instructor made national news in 2010 when she was arrested after openly wearing her gun to a Brookfield church service. No formal charges were filed and Sutterfield later won a $7,500 settlement from the city on her false arrest claim.

The Journal Sentinel reported in November of 2011:

In an early test of Wisconsin's new weapons law, Milwaukee police are seeking concealed weapon charges against an area gun rights activist who was wearing a gun in her car - before getting a new state permit. Krysta Sutterfield was arrested early Friday outside a closed Sherman Park coffee shop, where she was using a computer inside her parked car - while wearing her ever-present handgun. She was jailed overnight, and her gun has been confiscated. Sutterfield, 42, made news last year when she openly wore the gun to services at a Brookfield church and was arrested afterward. 

She was not formally charged, and she later settled a false arrest lawsuit against the city for $7,500. Earlier this year, Sutterfield went to court for the return of a gun seized by Milwaukee police after her therapist reported Sutterfield had made a suicidal comment. A national gun rights attorney sharply criticized how police revealed confidential medical information about Sutterfield to a judge without notice to Sutterfield in gun court. On Tuesday, she entered not guilty pleas to two municipal citations from Friday: for loitering or prowling and obstructing an officer, said her attorney, Rebecca Coffee.

However, the Journal Sentinel reported court records show that Sutterfeld’s therapist told police she was fine and they should leave her alone:

Sutterfield's doctor called Milwaukee police around noon on March 22 after Sutterfield stated during a therapy session that she was so upset she might go home and blow her brains out. Police went to Sutterfield's house around 2:30 p.m., but the therapist told them Sutterfield was fine and they should leave her alone. Police returned at 9 p.m., confiscated Sutterfield's Glock pistol and some ammunition, and took her to the county's mental health complex for an emergency detention.

Two days later, Sutterfield filed a petition to get her gun back. She alleged the March 22 visit from police resulted from a misunderstanding about an expired welfare check. "I'm not a danger to anyone except an attacker," she wrote. Before a May hearing, a police official sent Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet a letter asking the gun not be returned because of the therapist's concern and the fact Sutterfield had been taken in on an emergency detention. Sutterfield was not given a copy or notice of the letter. At the May hearing, she produced a letter from her current psychotherapist stating that at an April 6 session, she had no concern that Sutterfield might be a danger to herself or others. Sutterfield said the police officer in charge of gun returns, Michael Perez, had told her that's what she would need to bring to the hearing.

In a legal brief, Monroe argued it was improper for police, without going through the city's lawyer, to contact the judge directly, especially without giving notice or a copy of the letter to Sutterfield. He also said the letter unlawfully disclosed confidential medical records concerning Sutterfield, even though they did not address any of the statutory criteria for not returning her gun.

Monroe also called it irregular and unfair for Dallet to conduct her own investigation into the veracity of the doctor's letter Sutterfield presented at the May hearing.

"In short, a naked desire for the City to disarm Petitioner is inadequate to support a permanent confiscation of her property," Monroe wrote.

A week after the brief was submitted, Dallet ordered Sutterfield's gun returned.

Ammoland's Weingarten points out that most court actions result in a firearm being returned, but money is spent on legal fees as well as time and effort is expended on such cases that many law abiding citizens and their advocates believe should have been avoided in the first place. 


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