RICHMOND, Va. — Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute are rebutting an attempt by a Virginia police officer to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of a man who was arrested as he was engaged in a First Amendment protest against President Obama while lawfully carrying a rifle. Rutherford Institute attorneys are also challenging an assertion by police that Brandon Howard was not actually under arrest, even though he was detained by police at gun point, handcuffed against his will and transported against his will to a local police station.
In a reply brief filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Rutherford Institute attorneys assert that the police violated Howard’s First Amendment right to free speech, Second Amendment right to bear arms, and Fourth Amendment right to be free from a groundless arrest when they confronted him with guns drawn and ordered him to the ground on the mistaken belief that Howard was violating the law by being in public with a rifle slung over his shoulder, when in fact his possession and display of the rifle was wholly legal and did not make him subject to an arrest. Moreover, the City of Hopewell Police Department has admitted in writing that the incident involved a violation of department policy.
“As this case shows, if you feel like you can’t walk away from a police encounter of your own volition—and more often than not you can’t, especially when you’re being confronted by someone armed to the hilt with all manner of militarized weaponry and gear—then for all intents and purposes, you’re under arrest from the moment a cop stops you,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Certainly, if you’ve been placed in handcuffs and transported to a police station against your will, that constitutes an arrest.”
On Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, Brandon Howard arrived at an overpass above Interstate 295 in the City of Hopewell, Va., and displayed a 6 foot by 4 foot sign that read “Impeach Obama.” Howard was carrying a DMTS Panther Arms AR-15 rifle slung over his shoulder on a strap, and a .380 caliber Bersa Thunder sidearm pistol in a belted holster on his waist. Howard lawfully owned each firearm and did not point or brandish them at any time while engaged in his First Amendment protest activity on the overpass. Howard displayed his protest sign for 30 minutes, but Howard did not directly engage with anyone.
At about 5:30 p.m., a police officer pulled up to the area, remained in his car and observed Howard. Thereafter, three to five additional police cruisers arrived at the scene with emergency lights engaged. Approximately eight officers exited these vehicles with their guns drawn and ordered Howard to drop his sign and get on the ground with his hands spread above his head. Howard complied with the officers’ orders. Despite the fact that Howard at no time made any threatening action toward the officers or anyone else, one police officer allegedly asked Howard, “What do you think you are doing threatening people on my interstate?” Howard explained that he had not threatened anyone but was simply exercising his First and Second amendment rights. Howard was then handcuffed and transported to the police station, where he was left, handcuffed, in an interrogation room for 90 minutes, after which time he had his firearms returned and was released. A month later, the Deputy Chief of Police acknowledged in writing that an internal investigation had concluded that one of the officers violated department policy and would be disciplined and sent to remedial training. Attorney Raul Novo of Richmond, Va., is assisting The Rutherford Institute with the lawsuit.