Virginia police have settled a federal lawsuit brought by a man who was arrested as he practiced his First and Second Amendment rights.
Brandon Howard of Hopewell was standing with an “Impeach Obama” sign and a slung rifle on Aug. 26, 2013, when cops approached him with guns drawn. He was cuffed and interrogated for 90 minutes despite following all their commands during a confrontation on an overpass above Interstate 295. Cops now admit Howard’s civil liberties were infringed.
“As this case shows, if you feel like you can’t walk away from a police encounter of your own volition – and more often than not you can’t, especially when you’re being confronted by someone armed to the hilt with all manner of militarized weaponry and gear – then for all intents and purposes, you’re under arrest from the moment a cop stops you,” constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, said in a statement. The civil liberties organization filed the lawsuit on Howard’s behalf in November 2015.
“Certainly, if you’ve been placed in handcuffs and transported to a police station against your will, that constitutes an arrest,” Whitehead added.
Police inside three to five cruisers had already monitored Howard for 30 minutes prior to confronting him. He did not speak during his protest and merely held his anti-Obama sign and a DPMS Panther Arms AR-15 rifle slung over his shoulder on a strap. A .380 caliber Bersa Thunder sidearm pistol was also inside a holster on his waist. Each firearm was legally owned.
Part of the settlement between Howard and the City of Hopewell Police Department was a written statement acknowledging its error. Police admitted that an internal investigation concluded one of the officers violated department policy and would be disciplined and sent to remedial training.
Former Hopewell Sgt. John Hunter, the only defendant named in Howard’s lawsuit, has since retired from the police force, Hopewell Deputy Police Chief Robert Skowron told the Richmond-Times Dispatch in November 2014.