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Gun rights supporters sue Maryland Capitol Police over recent arrest

Two gun-rights advocates have filed a federal lawsuit against the Maryland Capitol Police officers who recently arrested them in Annapolis, alleging their First Amendment rights were violated.

Brothers Jeff and Kevin Hulbert were holding a weekly protest Feb. 5 on a sidewalk near the State House when officers asked them to move away from the street and onto Lawyers Mall, the open area at the center of the state government complex. Police said the men declined to move three times and were then arrested.

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In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore this week, the Hulberts claimed that Capitol Police Sgt. Brian T. Pope and Col. Michael Wilson, the agency’s chief, violated their freedom of speech and unlawfully arrested them.

The lawsuit alleges that at the time of the brothers’ arrest, Jeff Hulbert was “peaceably carrying a sign on a public sidewalk” in support of gun owners’ rights and that Kevin Hulbert was taking video of the confrontation with police.

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The brothers were both “placed painfully in tight handcuffs and searched before being taken” into custody, the lawsuit states.

Maryland Shall Issue, a nonprofit gun-rights advocacy group, joined the Hulberts as a plaintiff in the case.

The lawsuit also states that when police “did not like what the brothers had to say to the media” after the arrests, “the police retaliated against them for speaking out by charging the Hulberts with two additional crimes.”

Gun rights advocates took their case against Maryland’s strict Firearm Safety Act to the U.S. Supreme Court Monday, asking the justices to strike down a lower court ruling upholding the law.

Online court records from Anne Arundel County show both men were charged Feb. 5 with failure to obey an officer and Feb. 6 with trespassing and with blocking a public walkway. The records show that all charges were dropped Monday.

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After reviewing state Department of General Services video of the incident and “evaluating the merits of the case,” Anne Arundel State’s Attorney Wes Adams and Wilson “determined that the most suitable step forward was to dismiss the citations,” said Emily Morse, a spokeswoman for Adams.

A federal appeals court as upheld the assault rifle ban Maryland lawmakers passed in 2013, concluding that the powerful military-style guns outlawed by the measure are not entitled to protection under the Second Amendment.

Capitol Police officials were not aware of the federal lawsuit Friday, spokesman Nick Cavey said.

“The Maryland Capitol Police are committed to providing a safe working environment for state employees and visitors that frequent state properties, and to secure buildings that are located on state property,” Cavey said in a statement. “Ensuring that citizens are able to exercise their constitutional rights is and will always be a top priority.”

The incident has raised alarms for some state lawmakers, who have vented their concerns on the General Assembly floor.

As medical marijuana goes on sale in Maryland, some people interested in using the drug to manage medical conditions face a tough decision: Get access to the medicine or keep hold of their gun.

Republican Del. Nic Kipke, the House minority leader, said he looked into the case because he was surprised the brothers were arrested on public property after protesting in the same spot for years. He said he’s met with law enforcement in the capitol complex and concluded the arrests were “bogus.”

“This has troubled me more than anything else I’ve seen in Annapolis,” said Kipke, an Anne Arundel County Republican. “They’ve been doing exactly the same thing for years in exactly the same spot.”

Kipke said that if Capitol Police were concerned about public safety, their obligation is to provide a safe space for protesters, not arrest them.

“A few people standing on a curb holding a sign, protesting, is sort of a core part of what it means to be an American,” he said. “They shouldn’t step into the shadows, which is what they were asked to do.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.

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