Did this boy push the envelope to make a point? Yup. Did the civil rights marchers in the South in the 1960s do the same thing? Yup.
JULY 12, 2012
Troy teen calls acquittal in gun case ‘the right verdict’
BY LAUREN ABDEL-RAZZAQ AND MIKE MARTINDALE / THE DETROIT NEWS
Bloomfield Hills— A recent Troy High School graduate was acquitted Thursday of all charges in his arrest for carrying a rifle through downtown Birmingham.
A jury in 48th District Court found Sean M. Combs, 18, not guilty of brandishing a firearm and disturbing the peace. Wednesday, Judge Marc Barron issued a directed verdict dismissing a charge of resisting and obstructing a police officer after Combs' attorney, James Makowski, argued that city attorney Mary Kucharek had not proven that offense.
"I think they came up with the right verdict," Combs said after his acquittal. "It took them a while, but at the end of the day, I think it was the right decision."
Outside the courtroom, Combs was all smiles as he hugged his mother, Pam Mytnik. His brothers and girlfriend, Lia Grabowski, also were present.
Mytnik said she was nervous during the case because "I'm depending on seven people who don't know my son."
She said she hopes the case encourages people to know the law.
"I just think everyone needs to know the laws before we make arrests, and I would like to see that in the future," said Mytnik.
Combs' attorney said he was pleased with the verdict.
"I've said from the beginning this is not a gun rights case, this is a civil rights case," Makowski said after the decision. "Birmingham Police violated his civil rights by arresting him that night."
Kucharek declined to comment on the verdict.
Combs was arrested April 12 after police found him with the M1 carbine strapped to his back. The jury of six men and one woman deliberated Wednesday for more than two hours, then resumed deliberations Thursday morning, delivering the verdict shortly before noon.
All the offenses were misdemeanors punishable by up to 93 days in jail and $500 fines.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the jurors advised the judge they had come to an agreement on the brandishing count but not on the disturbing the peace charge.
Combs, the son of a retired Ferndale police officer, said he and a girlfriend had gone to Birmingham to see a movie and had some spare time, so he decided to walk around the business district with the rifle to exercise his open carry rights under Michigan law.
He said he was walking to a parking lot to return the rifle to his car when he was confronted by officers Rebekah Springer and Gina Potts, who demanded to see his identification.
He drew a crowd of teenagers when he refused, prompting the officers to call in another officer, who subsequently arrested Combs.
"It was about freedom of speech and freedom of expression," Combs said as to why he was carrying the rifle around. "It's my way of saying what I believe in."
In closing arguments Wednesday, Kucharek told jurors that the case was not about the Second Amendment or any of Combs' civil rights, but rather his interest in "showing off" an antique 1940s rifle his brother had given him for his 18th birthday.
"It was about choices, choices he made that night," she said. "He made a choice to conduct himself in a loud, boisterous manner when questioned by police.
"He wanted to open carry, because it is something he always wanted to do. He and his girlfriend spent an hour and a half walking around the downtown 'doing laps.' He was feeling good about himself and showing off to his girlfriend."
She stressed that Combs was arrested only after he repeatedly refused to provide identification showing he was of legal age, at least 18, to be carrying a weapon. While Combs never pointed or threatened anyone with the weapon, he carried it in an "ostentatious" manner, she said, which is defined as brandishing in dictionaries.
"He was showing off," she told the jury. "He liked the attention. He wanted to shock people."
Makowski stressed that it is not a legal requirement to provide identification to police.
The police officers all testified that Combs appeared several years younger than 18, and that when questioned, he became loud, drawing a crowd of teenagers.
"Angry that night? I would have been if someone had questioned my rights," said Makowski. "It doesn't matter if you agree with open carry or it makes you uncomfortable. It's the law."
The case is a victory for open carry advocates, Makowski said.
The next step for Combs is to finish out his summer vacation before he starts school at Oakland Community College, where he says he will study engineering. As for whether he will be carrying his rifle around in public again, he said "in the recent future probably not, but the rest of my life, maybe."
"At least this confirms that I can."