CA Vet Seeks Justice After LAPD Destroys His $700k Gun Collection

Wayne Wright (r). Via michellawyers.com.

Wayne Wright has a serious problem. About eleven years ago, the Vietnam veteran, police officer, and firefighter was the subject of a triumphant LAPD press release about a conquest it had achieved in its war on the private ownership of guns by California residents. The press release is still there on its website for all to behold . . .

Los Angeles: The Los Angeles Police Department aggressively targets suspects involved in the illegal sale of firearms to stop the flow of guns to the streets of Los Angeles.

On September 16, 2004, the Gun Unit, Detective Support Division, working from recently developed intelligence information, conducted an undercover gun buy operation in the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles. The suspect, Wayne Wright, engaged in an unlawful firearm transaction with an undercover Gun Unit officer. Wright was immediately arrested for the violation and during a subsequent search of his vehicle 11 additional rifles and shotguns were recovered.

Gun Unit Detectives then obtained a search warrant for Wright’s residence in the city of Simi Valley. During the service of the warrant, Gun Unit detectives recovered 376 weapons, including rifles, shotguns, handguns and assault weapons. Many of these guns are the types routinely used in crimes in Los Angeles. Also recovered at Wright ’s residence was a silencer and thousands of rounds of ammunition, including tracer rounds and armor piercing rounds, all of which in California, are felonies to possess.

During 2003, the gun unit seized 348 firearms. Year-to-date in 2004, the Gun Unit has seized 411 firearms. The seizure in this case of 388 total firearms nearly equals that for the first 8 months of 2004 and exceeds the total seizure for 2003.

The suspect, Wayne Wright, is not a licensed gun dealer and the Los Angeles Police Department believes that Wright is actively engaged in unlawful gun trafficking.

Suspect: Wayne Wright, 56 years of age, a resident of Simi Valley, California was booked at Devonshire Area Police Station for 12072 (d) P.C. – Transfer, Delivery or Sales of Firearms.

Traditional media outlets like the Los Angeles Times jumped on board, dutifully reporting without question whatever the police said about the matter. The story even managed to make the Sydney Morning Herald.

The only problem with the story: Wright wasn’t actually engaged in unlawful gun trafficking. Despite the seizure of hundreds of his firearms by the police, the only violations the DA could make stick was a single misdemeanor charge of unlawful possession of an “assault” weapon (apparently he’d been the executor of the estate of a brother law enforcement officer, and, according to his attorneys, had simply ‘forgotten’ about it, which might be plausible given that he had 300+ firearms to keep track of.)

Wright ended up working out a plea deal for informal probation on that charge, and because the misdemeanor wasn’t punishable by more than one year in prison, Wright didn’t lose his right to own firearms.

That should have been the end of things. But it wasn’t. Despite completing the informal probation, Wright never got all of his guns back. The City of Los Angeles kept over 300 of them, with an estimated value of over $700,000.

He’s spent years jumping through hoops, fulfilling (arguably illegal) demands for proof of ownership, copies of original sales receipts, and the like. Everything from 1911s to a Walther PP, a Browning Hi-Power to a Browning Citori. The entire list can be seen here, in the complaint recently filed by Wright’s attorneys.

Despite the fact that none of them were owned or possessed in violation of the law, despite the fact that he remained legally entitled to own  them, despite the fact that even some elements of the bureaucracy acknowledged that, yes, the firearms should be returned, the LAPD ignored all of his efforts to have them returned.

And then it got worse: the LAPD simply destroyed the lot of them.

Wright isn’t taking this lying down. He and his attorneys – C.D. Michel and Joshua Dale – filed a complaint alleging not just violations of U.S. civil rights law, but also violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, under the theory that the firearms were destroyed to show that “the City’s Gun Unit was being sufficiently effective in using federal grant money to keep guns ‘off the streets’….”

It’s an interesting theory. RICO provides additional penalties and causes of action against criminal acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. It was intended to assist in the prosecution of criminal gangs (i.e., the Mafia) but it has been applied to many organizations deemed to be criminal enterprises in the past including, interestingly enough, the Key West, Florida police department.

To prevail in a RICO action, Wright will have to show that an enterprise, in this case the LAPD, engaged in conduct that showed a pattern of racketeering activity. Here, they argue that since the city Gun Unit intended to deprive Wright of his firearms even though he wasn’t under suspicion of any crime, simply to bag a large haul to show that they were being effective at keeping guns off the streets. And to continue to enjoy the fruits of federal largesse supplied to them for that purpose.

The complaint alleges – unsurprisingly – that Wright is hardly the only one to have been subjected to this sort of behavior from Los Angeles’s finest. They point out the rather strange conditions of his arrest (which they consider entrapment):

The Gun Unit, led by Defendants Tompkins and Edwards, contacted [Wright] as ostensible purchasers of a firearm from [his] collection. They arranged to meet…to inspect the firearm and arrange the transfer. [They] met in Los Angeles County…. Edwards agreed at the meeting to purchase the firearm after inspecting it. {Wright] wanted to immediately take the firearm to a local Federal Firearms Licensee (“FFL”) in order to properly effect the sale under state and federal law. Edwards agreed to the immediate FFL transfer, but played the “eager buyer” and insisted that [Wright] allow Edwards to drive the firearm to the local FFL to surrender the firearm to the FFL and begin the transfer paperwork. After cajoling by Edwards, [Wright] agreed, and gave Edwards possession of the firearm to drive to the FFL, at which point, Gun Unit officers appeared and arrested [Wright].

[Wright’s] reluctance to engage in the transaction in the unlawful manner which Edwards insisted upon was clear from the surveillance recordings of the encounter, and the matter would never be charged as a crime…. It was apparent that no crime had been committed but for Edwards’s insistence of “holding” the firearm while they drove to the dealer to get the lawful transfer process started. It was a bad sting. Nonetheless, LAPD then used the fact of the arrest to get a search warrant to seize Plaintiff’s collection, claiming, with no corroborating evidence, that the collector was a “gun trafficker….”

The complaint also details the many steps Wright took to get his property back, and how, despite having the law on his side, and having gone above-and-beyond to meet every request, no matter how unreasonable, they not only kept his firearms, but destroyed them.

Will Wright be successful in this lawsuit? I’m not a California attorney, but I understand that occasionally, justice prevails even in that distant land. We shall see.

 

DISCLAIMER: The above is an opinion piece; it is not legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship in any sense. If you need legal advice in any matter, you are strongly urged to hire and consult your own counsel. This post is entirely my own, and does not represent the positions, opinions, or strategies of my firm or clients.

147