Northrup Decision in Ohio: Legal Lessons

Law Shield would like to inform our members about a federal appeals court decision in Ohio that may influence how open-carry rules are enforced in other states:

From page 7 of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Northrup v. Toledo Police Dept.:

“While open-carry laws may put police officers (and some motorcyclists) in awkward situations from time to time, the Ohio legislature has decided its citizens may be entrusted with firearms on public streets…The Toledo Police Department has no authority to disregard this decision—not to mention the protections of the Fourth Amendment—by detaining every “gunman” who lawfully possesses a firearm.”

Backstory from the decision:

“On a midsummer evening, Shawn and Denise Northrup went for a neighborhood walk with their daughter, grandson, and dog. Apparently in a happy-go-lucky mood, Shawn wore a t-shirt reading, “This Is The Shirt I Wear When I Don’t Care.” Shawn carried a cell phone, which he holstered on his hip — next to a black semiautomatic handgun.

A passing motorcyclist stopped to complain about Shawn’s visible firearm. The stranger, Alan Rose, yelled, “[Y]ou can’t walk around with a gun like that!” But “[O]pen carry is legal in Ohio!” Denise responded. As the Northrups walked away, Denise and Rose exchanged increasingly unprintable words until he was out of view (and earshot).

Rose called 911, reporting that “a guy walking down the street” with his dog was “carrying a gun out in the open.”

The police eventually arrived, ordered Northrup to stop, demanded that he turn over the gun, handcuffed him, and kept him handcuffed in a police car for 30 minutes. Eventually, they let him go, and all charges were dropped. Northrup sued, and the Sixth Circuit allowed the case to go forward:

“…. [A]nd it has long been clearly established that an officer needs evidence of criminality or dangerousness before he may detain and disarm a law-abiding citizen. We thus affirm the district court’s conclusion that, after reading the factual inferences in the record in Northrup’s favor, Officer Bright could not reasonably suspect that Northrup needed to be disarmed.”

As we’ve noted in our Law Shield seminars, the police can approach anyone and ask them questions, even without reasonable suspicion. They can also order someone to stop if they have reasonable suspicion that the person is committing a crime or is about to commit a crime.

What they can’t do legally, as this decision notes, is coercively stop and detain a person without reasonable suspicion that a crime is/may be happening. Open-carry is not a crime in the State of Ohio.

But in the real world — as Mr. Northrup’s experience shows — not all police officers are conversant with state open-carry laws and/or the Fourth Amendment. And those encounters can turn into an event in which you’re detained, disarmed, arrested, cited for some variation of refusal to cooperate, and you wind up going to court and face criminal and/or charges.

When we look at the facts in the decision, it’s hard to criticize Mr. Northrup’s actions. He was calm, he complied with an arriving officer’s commands, he asserted his rights and knowledge of the law. He also attempted to record the event, which, in the real world, can provoke an officer into taking a more aggressive stance in retaliation. It shouldn’t, but it does.

Members, if you get involved in an event like this, call us IMMEDIATELY—even during the stop—if you or a companion are able to.

We encourage our members to download and read the decision and log into the members’ Forum, our Facebook page, or email us with questions about Northrup.  To read the entire decision, click here.

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