A man who was arrested while legally carrying a handgun near his own mailbox has won a settlement against the city of Corvallis, Oregon.
The city’s insurance carrier paid 31-year-old Kevin Hall $5,000 after a federal judge concluded that a Corvallis police officer illegally detained and searched the man two years ago, according to the Corvallis Gazette-Times.
Hall, a software developer and Monroe volunteer firefighter, said he was walking back to his house after retrieving his mail on Oct. 26, 2011, wearing a handgun in a holster at his side. Court documents indicated that Corvallis Police Officer James Dodge pulled up and got out of his patrol car, after which Hall asked if he was being detained. Dodge replied no and wanted to question Hall, but Hall ignored him. Hall then asked again if he was being detained, and Dodge replied yes. Dodge patted Hall down and questioned him about where he lived and if he had identification.
According to the Gazette-Times, court documents say the police officer was suspicious of Hall because Hall was carrying a gun in a high-crime area along railroad tracks, wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt, acting suspiciously and refusing to answer questions.
Dodge claimed he had reasonable suspicion Hall had been trespassing on railroad property, but US District Judge Michael McShane disagreed in an opinion issued in September, ruling that the stop and pat-down violated Hall’s Fourth Amendment rights.
“The gravity of the public concern — criminal trespass — was minimal,” he wrote, according to the Gazette-Times, “as was the public concern — preventing criminal trespass and ‘transient-related crimes and violations’ — served by the seizure.”
Hall, who says he was well-versed in his rights while carrying a firearm and while interacting with police, initially filed a complaint with the Corvallis Police Department.
“We did conduct the investigation internally,” Police Chief Jon Sassaman told the Gazette-Times. “Of course, we sometimes end up with differing opinions based on everybody’s recollection. We didn’t find that the officer did anything wrong. Unfortunately, the federal judge disagreed.”
Sassaman told the Gazette-Times the city, police department and insurance carrier felt the wisest course was to settle the lawsuit.
“As a city, we have to decide what the economic threshold is for which we would continue to challenge the ruling, even if we feel the ruling is inaccurate,” he said.
Hall, who has relatives in law enforcement, has a concealed handgun license and shoots competitively, said his decision to openly carry a firearm is not about guns.
“For me, it’s always been more of a rights thing, not a gun thing,” he told the Gazette-Times. “When I open carry, the reason I do it is to remind people of their rights.”
He added that since the lawsuit, he has mostly stopped open carrying.
“I stopped because my personal belief is, if you open carry, you have to be willing to say no to police and sometimes that results in being arrested and being detained,” he told the Gazette-Times. “Since I had one lawsuit going on, I didn’t want another one.”
Sassaman told the Gazette-Times that after Hall filed the initial complaint, the Corvallis Police Department conducted a refresher course on related gun laws.
He said that while the police department recognizes the right of citizens to legally carry firearms, police often get caught in the middle of people exercising those rights and people alarmed by the sight of someone carrying a gun in public.
“When citizens are calling 911, we have to somehow evaluate what that situation is,” he told the Gazette-Times. “Is it truly someone who is legally carrying a firearm or is it someone who committed a crime or is about to commit a crime? We get caught in the middle of that.”