United States District Judge Bruce D. Black of the United States District Court for New Mexico entered summary judgment in a civil case for damages against Alamogordo, NM police officers. The Judge’s straight shootin’ message to police: Leave open carriers alone unless you have “reason to believe that a crime [is] afoot.”
The facts of the case are pretty simple. Matthew St. John entered an Alamogordo movie theater as a paying customer and sat down to enjoy the movie. He was openly carrying a holstered handgun, conduct which is legal in 42 states, and requires no license in New Mexico and twenty-five other states.
In response to a call from theater manager Robert Zigmond, the police entered the movie theater, physically seized Mr. St. John from his seat, took him outside, disarmed him, searched him, obtained personally identifiable information from his wallet, and only allowed him to re-enter the theater after St. John agreed to secure his gun in his vehicle.
Mr. St. John was never suspected of any crime nor issued a summons for violating any law. Importantly, no theater employee ever ordered Mr. St. John to leave.
The City police apparently simply decided to act as agents of the movie theater to enforce a their rule of conduct and not to enforce any rule of law. On these facts, Judge Black concluded as a matter of law, that the City police violated Matthew St. John’s Constitutional Rights under the Fourth Amendment, because they seized and disarmed him even though there was not “any reason to believe that a crime was afoot.”
Judge Black’s opinion is consistent with numerous High State and Federal Appellate Courts, e.g., the United States Supreme Court in Florida v. J.L. (2000) (detaining man on mere report that he has a gun violates the Fourth Amendment) and the Washington Appeals Court in State v. Casad (2004) (detaining man observed by police as openly carrying rifles on a public street violates the Fourth Amendment).
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