Lakewood woman's lawsuit forces police to return confiscated firearms

by Chad D. Baus

On August 30, the Cleveland Scene reported that after having attempted to get police to return her collection of firearms for an entire year, a Lakewood, OH veteran was finally forced to file a lawsuit against the police department, which had confiscated the collection from her home when she was away.

From the article:

Francesca Rice no longer serves in her country's armed forces, but she brought a piece of the action back home with her.

It seems the Lakewood vet had stockpiled her Edgewater Towers condo with a home arsenal including handguns, shotguns, a sniper rifle — plus a Thompson sub-machine gun, just in case the pizza guy got fresh.

Her cache somehow caught the attention of Lakewood Police, who paid a visit last September. 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. The only problem: They had no apparent reason to.

When Rice kindly asked to have her toys returned, the cops acknowledged that the weapons were legally owned. But they refused to return them without a court order. And so Rice has filed suit in Lakewood Municipal Court.

In truth, according to a list published by the Lakewood Municipal Court, the firearm incorrectly described by The Scene as a "sub-machine gun" was just a modern, semi-automatic version of the iconic rifle, and the "sniper" rifle was a vintage Chinese SKS M21 semi-automatic carbine.

With the obligatory, incorrect and scary-sounding descriptions we've come to expect from the news media having been included, The Scene continued:

So far, nobody's doing much talking. Lakewood Police Chief Timothy Malley declined to speak specifically about the seizure, citing the ongoing lawsuit. He also declined to speak generally about situations in which Lakewood cops would be likely to seize property on a whim. Rice's attorney did not return Scene's calls for comment, and Rice didn't respond to repeated buzzes on her apartment intercom.

Amid all the zipped lips, there's a moral here for everybody: Gun owners, beware of law enforcement looking to trod upon your rights. And non-gun owners, beware of neighbors who are particularly well prepared for the zombie apocalypse.

Buckeye Firearms has been attempting to learn more about the situation since this article originally was published just over two weeks ago. We were able to determine that Lakewood police had acted based on a situation involving the gun owner's absence from a VA hospital where she had been receiving treatment.

However, no charges were ever filed, and a year later, Rice's requests to have her guns returned had gone unanswered. (Note: while we don't know ANY of the specifics of Ms. Rice's medical situation in 2010, this is a good example to point to when discussing why our military veterans are often hesitant to seek psychiatric treatment at the VA for some of the more common symptoms faced by troops after they return home, such post-traumatic stress disorder.)

Fortunately, the lawsuit seems to have had its desired effect. From a Cleveland Scene article dated September 14:

Last month we brought you the story of Francesca Rice, an Iraq war veteran in Lakewood whose stockpile of licensed firearms was seized by cops. So Rice, whose service left her disabled, pursued justice the American way: By suing their ass.

Since Scene first reported the story, Rice's arsenal has been restocked and her legal action tabled.

The incident started in September 2010, when Lakewood Police were asked to check on Rice by the VA hospital, where she'd been receiving treatment. Thirteen weapons — including a machine gun and sniper rifle — were taken when cops suspected Rice's disability prevented her from owning them under Ohio law.

Last week, with no further evidence from the VA that Rice couldn't handle a gun, the police returned her weapons.

"On the advice of my attorney," says Rice, "I have safely and legally stored my collection elsewhere."

We are pleased that Ms. Rice's collection has been returned to her, and wish her all the best.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman.

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