FLINT TWP. — A Genesee County Circuit Court judge recently acquitted a township man of criminal charges, clearing the way for his civil suit in federal court to proceed against the township police police department.
John David McMorris, now 23, filed the suit in February 2014 claiming his civil rights were violated when he was arrested on Christmas Eve 2013 on charges of carrying a concealed weapon (CCW).
The arrest was recorded on the police car dash camera and viewed as evidence.
McMorris argued that he was openly carrying a handgun, as allowed under Michigan law.
But McMorris’ civil rights suit was put on hold when the Genesee County Prosecutor’s Office filed criminal CCW charges against him in July 2014, according to his attorney Craig L. McAra. Under federal law, the criminal case had to be resolved first. so a stay of proceedings was issued for the civil case.
A jury trial in the criminal case began this month but was dismissed a day later on April 2 by a directed verdict from Circuit Court Judge Archie Hayman. A directed verdict is when a judge decides that there is not enough evidence for a jury to reach a verdict beyond reasonable doubt.
“We are very confident the judge made the right decision,’’ McAra said, adding that a poll of the 14 jurors when they were brought back into court after the directed verdict was granted, found that only one woud have voted to convict.
“The facts were the facts,” McAra said. “It was clear that Mr. McMorris was open carrying. There was no reasonable basis for the jury to be allowed to conclude he was carrying a concealed weapon.”
McMorris is a young man and very relieved not to be labeled a convicted felon for the rest of his life, McAra said.
“Now that the criminal case is over, I will file a motion to have the civil case reinstated,”McAra said.
That action presumes that the prosecutor will not appeal Judge Hayman’s decision. The prosecutor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Attorney G. Gus Morris, rep- resenting the township police department, said the outcome of the criminal case does not affect the defense in the civil case.
“We continue to believe that Sgt. (Russell) Fries actions were lawful in arresting Mr. McMorris,” he said.
“Police officers can arrest someone lawfully if there is probable cause to arrest them.”
Township police feel that Sgt. Fries acted lawfully because the arrest was supported by probable cause, Morris said.
Township Police Chief George Sippert declined to comment on the case, deferring all comment to attorney Morris.
In the civil case, the burden of proof will be greater on the plaintiff and his attorney, Morris said. McAra agreed.
“The legal standard for wrongful arrest is pretty low on the part of police officers,”McAra said. “There is a much higher standard for us to show and lower standard for the defense to show.
It will be a much more difficult fight in federal court.”
After the stay of proceedings is lifted, the civil case should take a couple of months to come before a federal judge in U.S. District Court Judge in Detroit, McAra said. If the judge rules against McMorris, he has the option of appealing to a higher court.
McMorris’ five-count complaint claims violation of his civil rights, false arrest, false imprisonment, constitutional violations and intentional infliction of emotional distress including being deprived of spending Christmas Day with his family.
According to court documents, McMorris was arrested at about 11:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve while walking down Torrey Road openly carrying a holstered Smith *& Wesson 40-caliber handgun.
Sgt. Fries argued that the gun was not visible but McMorris said it was or that he was not aware if it been hidden by his coat. Fries arrested him and he was held until December 26 before being released without being charged.
McAra said that his client is an advocate of his Second Amendment right to bear arms and the right to open carry but he was not trying to make a statement on the night of his arrest. He was carrying the gun for personal protection, McAra said.
McMorris is seeking damages in excess of $25,000 but the courts will ultimately decide the amount if he wins his case, McAra said.
“He spent three days in jail including Christmas. Being dragged through the criminal process enhances his interest in a reasonable settlement,’’ McAra said.