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October 24, 2012

Troy teen sues Birmingham for civil rights violation

Self-proclaimed Second Amendment advocate Sean Combs files federal suit against city and officers

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

BIRMINGHAM — After 18-year-old Sean Combs was found innocent in July of the gun charges against him for carrying a long-arm rifle through downtown Birmingham, he said he wasn’t sure if he would pursue a civil suit against the city.

But the Troy teen appears to have made up his mind.

It was three months exactly from the date Combs was acquitted that he filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Birmingham for false arrest and imprisonment, and violation of his Second Amendment rights, among other complaints. 

According to Combs’ attorney in the suit, Matthew Kolodziejski, the decision to file was made after he and his client looked closely at the issue and decided it was the right move for Combs.

“This was after he was acquitted of the criminal charges. We did some research, looked into it a little bit, and decided he had a cause of action and decided to move forward,” said Kolodziejski.

In addition to the city of Birmingham, the suit lists the three officers noted in the complaint to have been the ones who arrested Combs April 13 when they spotted him in downtown Birmingham with a .30-caliber rifle in tow.

According to police, when officers asked for identification to ensure Combs was of age to have the weapon in his possession, he refused. He was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace, brandishing a firearm and obstructing an officer.

The arrest drew controversy from around metro Detroit, with many saying that Combs was wrongfully arrested while exercising his constitutional right to bear arms. On June 11, open-carry advocates gathered in Birmingham’s Shain Park to protest what they say were unjust charges.

One month later, a jury in Oakland County’s 48th District Court agreed, and Combs was acquitted of the charges. At that time, Combs said he wasn’t totally sure if he would consider a civil suit, but his attorney in the criminal case, Jim Makowski, said he definitely thought Combs should take further action.

“I think a civil suit is definitely in the cards,” said Makowski after Combs was found innocent of the gun charges July 12. “My client has gone through a significant financial burden and a lot of emotional stress because of this, worrying about the potential of going to jail. I think he should be compensated.”

U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts is slated to hear the case, though a court date hasn’t been scheduled. There is also no award specified in the suit. Eastern District Court spokesman Rod Hansen said that in cases like this, the plaintiff typically seeks a monetary award of $75,000 or more. Kolodziejski did not dispute that claim, though he declined to talk about what his client is seeking at this time.

On Oct. 17, City Manager Robert Bruner disclosed to the media that about a month prior to the suit being filed, Kolodziejski reached out to Dianne Winn, a senior claim representative with Meadowbrook Insurance Group, the city’s liability insurance agent through the Michigan Municipal League Liability and Property Pool. Winn reportedly said that Kolodziejski “verbally demanded” $40,000 to settle the case during a phone conversation. Kolodziejski declined to comment about the reported settlement demand.

The demand, along with a draft complaint from Kolodziejski, was shared with the city attorney’s office and other officials.

Bruner in an email declined to comment on the suit, except to say that “the city will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”

According to Kolodziejski, he and his client are ready for a fight.

“Right now we’re awaiting a response from the city and the officers. Regardless of what their opinion is, Mr. Combs’ rights were clearly violated. He had to go through this entire ordeal, which was hell for him.”

He added that he expects the city to respond and for Roberts to schedule a court date within the next couple of months.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.