Headline: Cleveland pays out settlement in gun lawsuit, will review law over weapon seizures

by Chad D. Baus

How do you turn a $400 gun into almost $7,000? Have it confiscated by the City of Cleveland.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reporting recently that Cleveland has agreed to give Derrick Washington his gun back and pay $6,750 in a settlement over a federal lawsuit that drew outrage from gun-rights advocates over the police department's seizure of Washington's weapon in a case in which he was never charged.

According to the article, a settlement agreement released last week said the city would release Washington's .38-caliber Taurus and pay him $1,000. The gun, according to court records, cost him about $400. The city also paid $5,500 in fees for his attorney, J. Gary Seewald, and $250 in court costs.

The agreement puts an end to Washington's lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Cleveland. But its impact might go beyond the courtroom.

Maureen Harper, a spokeswoman for the city, said Cleveland "is reviewing the continued enforceability of some or all of the Cleveland codified ordinance at issue in the lawsuit and will advise the Division of Police accordingly." The law focuses on how police officers seize weapons and how long they can hold onto the weapons.

Washington's trouble with the city began at 2:09 a.m. Feb. 10, when he called police to report a shooting in the 2800 block of East 116th Street, according to police reports. He later met with officers and told them that he had a gun in his car and a valid concealed carry license. He was not linked in any way to the shooting.

The reports indicate that Washington, who was not in his car at the time, also told the officers that he had two vodka drinks, something Seewald denies. He said Washington did not have a drink.

The officers later arrested Washington, accusing him of using weapons while intoxicated and illegally carrying a concealed weapon, according to police reports. The latter allegation stems from police accusing Washington of failing to tell officers immediately that he had a license to carry a concealed weapon. Seewald also denied the allegation, saying Washington told officers about his license as soon as he could.

Police brought Washington to jail, where he stayed for three days. An officer later approached an assistant city prosecutor about the charges. The prosecutor, however, said there was not enough evidence and dropped the case.

But while Washington was not charged, police would not return the gun because of a city law that allowed officers to keep seized weapons until a "court of competent jurisdiction'' decides the city must give them back.

...Guns-rights advocates say the city statute involves possession of a weapon. They say state law already covers it, and Ohio law trumps the city's statute.

As noted in the article, in the months after the gun was seized, Seewald asked the city for the weapon back. In August, he sued the city in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. It was later transferred to U.S. District Court, where Magistrate Judge Kenneth McHargh handled the case. The attorneys reached a settlement in November, in one of their first meetings with McHargh.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary, and BFA PAC Vice Chairman.

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