Cleveland Man Sues City for Return of His Legally-Owned Gun

by Jesse Hathaway

Derrick J. Washington of Cleveland has spent nearly nine months fighting city law enforcement officials to retrieve his legally licensed and registered firearm, which is being held as evidence following his arrest after he reported a potential crime in progress.

Washington is suing the City of Cleveland in federal court, alleging that the city's policy of requiring citizens to pay a fee to retrieve private property from evidence is "intentionally and maliciously designed to expropriate firearms legally owned" by citizens — ultimately resulting in a violation of his Second Amendment rights.

According to Cleveland Division of Police records obtained by Media Trackers, Washington called emergency responders to report having heard gunshots in the area of a nearby traffic accident.

When police arrived on the scene to investigate, they arrested the witness as well as the individuals involved in the two-vehicle collision.

Incorrectly believing there was an outstanding warrant for Washington's arrest, Cleveland police searched his car, confiscating his pistol and concealed handgun license without a search warrant.

Washington was held in detention for illegally carrying a concealed weapon and using a weapon while intoxicated, despite the fact that his legally-owned firearm — a Taurus .38 special revolver — was found secured in a gun locker in his car, not on his person.

Police records do not show that officers performed any sobriety test on Washington.

In an interview with Media Trackers, Washington's attorney J. Gary Seewald argued that the City of Cleveland's entire case against his client was based on false premises. Seewald claimed the city knew Washington had violated no laws, but held and investigated him in a manner the attorney described as "bullshit" and "outrageous."

Ohio Revised Code 2923.12, under which Washington was held, states that loaded firearms may not be "concealed on the person's person or concealed ready at hand." Police incident reports claim that Cleveland Police Sergeant Edward Lentz and other officers arrested Washington for carrying a firearm although body searches determined he was not carrying any weapons.

"What right do you think they have to search his car? They have to have, at least, some sort of reason to go search inside the car," Seewald told Media Trackers. "Number one, they had no reason to believe that any crime was committed; and they had no reason to believe that there was any evidence inside that car; and three, they had no reason to believe that my guy did anything, or was participating — nothing!"

Washington spent the next 2 days and 3 nights in jail before police investigators concluded, after two rounds of information-gathering and deliberations with the city's assistant prosecutor, that there was "insufficient evidence" to charge him with any crime.

After Washington was finally released, his gun remained in the possession of the City of Cleveland, with police citing a local law enabling police officers to confiscate any firearm which they believe might be used to cause bodily harm against them, until the item is "released by an order of a court of competent jurisdiction."

"He comes out and he hears the shooting, calls the police—what are you supposed to do, who are you supposed to call? Who are you gonna call, Ghostbusters?" Seewald asked. "These people are ridiculous."

Seewald and lawyers for the city are scheduled to meet with Magistrate Judge Kenneth McHargh of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio to set a hearing schedule on Washington's complaint, 278 days after Washington's firearm was confiscated by police officers.

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