By David Codrea
“NOW COMES the Plaintiff, Francesca Rice, by and through undersigned counsel…and brings forth this Complaint in Replevin against the Defendants,” a filing in the Lakewood Municipal Court, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, begins.
“Complaint in Replevin”? Essentially a legal demand for return of property.
“Defendants”? Those would be the City of Lakewood, Division of Police, and Timothy J. Makkey, Chief of Police.
What property? What did the Lakewood Police do?
“[T]he Lakewood vet had stockpiled her…condo with a home arsenal including handguns, shotguns, a sniper rifle — plus a Thompson sub-machine gun,” Cleveland Scene Magazine reported. “Her cache somehow caught the attention of Lakewood Police… When they found Rice wasn’t home, they asked an obliging employee of the complex to open up the apartment without her consent. Once inside, they raided the gun rack, making off with 13 firearms worth around $15,000.”
Except that they had no warrant and no probable cause. Everything was lawfully owned. Rice, a disabled military veteran, is not a prohibited person. So she asked them to return her property, by telephone and in writing. The result, per her complaint: “The Defendants…continue to fail and refuse to return said property.”
What’s clear from this is the police had no legal authority to do what they did, and yet continue to hold Rice’s property, which, as stated in the complaint, “has no evidentiary value and bears no relevance to police business.”
The court would appear to agree. The police department and its chief received a notice of proceeding from the Court stating it “issued an order in…favor of the plaintiff…directing that [seized firearms]…be taken from you.”
This was followed with a summons commanding the bailiff to notify the police and the chief that unless they appear “to answer the action…and for wrongfully detaining…property, goods and chattel…the petition…will be taken as true and judgment rendered accordingly.” And the bailiff was “further commanded immediately to seize and take into custody…the said goods and chattels” unless Defendants posted a bond.
So what’s going on? Both the Plaintiff and the Defendants are being tight-lipped, and information outside of the above-cited article and online court documents is scarce. Still, an e-mail list I’m on that includes lawyers and academics resulted in opinions that compelling a property owner to initiate action is unconstitutional and violates due process, and that courts have consistently held that firearms seizures require proper notice and an opportunity for a hearing.
Still, it’s not the first time we’ve explored such outrages—in the December 2008 “Rights Watch” column we discussed a gun owner in New York whose firearms were confiscated even though there were “no criminal charges against him, no convictions, no mental health diagnoses, no adjudication of any kind.” He had committed the sin of trying to communicate with Rep. Carolyn McCarthy on an area of disagreement, and that kind of presumptuousness will simply not be tolerated
Who among us has the resources to fight the government to reclaim what is rightfully ours? And for most of us who can’t afford it, how many would even try?