Gun-Toting Birmingham Teen Example of Cops Overreaching

The city of Birmingham and three of the suburb's cops may be in trouble after being hit with a lawsuit by an 18-year-old Troy high school graduate who was arrested last spring as he walked through the Birmingham business district with a rifle slung across his back.

The Free Press reports: 
Sean Combs, 18, of Troy said he filed the suit to get the city and three police officers to admit they were wrong for arresting him on Old Woodward Avenue in April while he said he was exercising his Second Amendment right to bear arms.
"I'm kind of sick of their dodging it that they did anything wrong," he said Tuesday.
The gun case was tried in the 48th District Court, and in July, Combs was acquitted by a jury of disturbing the peace and brandishing a firearm. The presiding judge threw out the charge of resisting arrest.
City attorney Tim Currier said that although the city hasn't been served the official suit, its insurance company has a draft. He said they would fight the complaint.
"The police department did nothing wrong," he said. 

Despite Currier's willingness to squander more public resources to resist the suit, it's tough to see where the win is for the city in any of this. Combs was cleared. There was no crime, and there was no justification for an arrest.

By even the most objective reports, the charges slapped against Combs reflect the sort of sketchy tactics too many law enforcement officers pull — and too often get away with —when they want a reason to lock your ass up. The cops claim they demanded Combs' ID but he refused. Under Michigan law, though, he's an adult and doesn't have to show the police anything.

They accused him of brandishing -- essentially pointing his gun or otherwise flashing it in a threatening way -- but apparently the jury realized that'd be tough to do with the rifle across his back.

They hit with him the charge of last resort, the old "disturbing the peace," an amorphous toxic cloud of an accusation that cops can twist in just about any way they choose when they really want you in cuffs. To let even the cops tell it, Combs created the disturbance when they stopped him and made demands that he had no obligation to comply with. Sure, he may have attracted notice, but there's no evidence that he alarmed anyone or caused any commotion before the cops rolled up on him. (I seriously wish someone gave enough of a damn to toss "disturbing the peace" from the books, or at least give it some real practical definition. As much as anything else, disturbing the peace -- and iterations as "contempt of cop" -- can too easily became a tool for facilitating violations both mundane and horrific.)

And sorry, but arresting someone because they "look young" doesn't cut it either.

Plenty of people will contend that Combs was being an ass by needlessly toting a rifle through town. But a nation of laws is obligated to protect asses and non-asses alike, especially when they're exercising rights that, like speech, are supposed to be guaranteed.

I've seen people arrested for even less than Combs, their rights trampled like so much pothole filler. I've seen women locked up because they "mouthed off" to police while standing near their own homes. I've seen boys dragged away in cuffs because they chose to saunter -- not run -- away while obeying a police officer's command to leave a place. I've seen kids beaten by bully cops for no other reason than that they looked young and, thus, easy to harass with impunity.

So yeah, Combs may have been extra with the carrying of the old-school rifle through a business district. But being that kind of extra isn't a crime and doesn't merit being thrown in cuffs or a cage. You want to argue in favor of a statute against toting rifles down a thoroughfare, hop on that. But it's the law. And the fact that a city attorney doesn't see much wrong with someone cooking up bullshit charges to violate a man's rights-- 1st, 2nd or otherwise -- should be a bit disturbing to our collective peace…of mind.

Email Signup
Send us your email address and we’ll send you the best of Detroit!