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By Eric Lieberman
A lawyer says law enforcement in Dearborn, Mich., conducted a “political witch hunt” after his clients were arrested for carrying firearms into a police station.
Brandon Vreeland, 40, and James Baker, 24, were arrested Feb. 5 after the younger one, clad with a black ski mask, walked into the police department with a short-barreled rifle strapped to his chest, and a semi-automatic pistol tied to his waist, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Vreeland left his gun in the car so he could videotape the encounter as an experiment to see if police would respect the Second Amendment rights of the U.S. Constitution. Both have previously said they are legal gun owners, and that Michigan law allows them to carry their weapon openly, including in a police station.
The men allege that police knew of their arrival because of a fake Facebook account that was used to track their activities. Officers reportedly had their guns drawn before Baker and Vreeland reached the precinct.
“After the discovery, it is very clear that Dearborn (police) knew that they were coming, knew who they were, and planned the ambush,” said attorney Nicholas Somberg, who represents Vreeland, according to the Detroit Free Press. “It’s not that they were reacting to a situation they thought was going to be violent. They actually knew it was not violent, knew who they were, and just wanted to teach these guys a lesson.”
The police and the two men essentially got in a standoff as the officers, with guns out, yelled at the men to drop their weapons.
“Put it on the ground or you are dead! I will shoot you. I will put a round in you. What the hell is the matter with you?” One officer can be heard screaming in the video.
Somberg alleges that not only did his client and his associate do nothing illegal, but the police were acting in a wrongful manner. He says documents show that police created a Facebook profile with the name “Olivia” and scanned publicly posted conversations on the social media platform.
“My clients have other activist friends,” Somberg said. “They have a whole network, so they’re just screen-shotting everybody.” (RELATED: DC Police Order Facebook Give Up Inauguration Protesters’ Social Media Data)
But Tom Lambert, the president of Michigan Open Carry Inc., a gun-rights advocacy group, says he does not condone the actions of Vreeland and Baker, and that police handled the situation appropriately.
“Let us be clear, Michigan Open Carry Inc. in no way supports the actions of these individuals. It is our belief that their actions were reckless and primarily designed to draw attention and a response,” Lambert said.
Vreeland was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, assaulting/resisting/obstructing a police officer and disturbing the peace; Baker was charged with two counts of carrying a concealed weapon and one count of brandishing firearms in public.
“We audit police to see how well they honor the Constitution and people’s rights,” Vreeland said after posting $1,500 bond. “We showcase police abuse and abuse of police power in the totalitarian police state that we live in.”
Police use of social media as law enforcement tool is growing and is now quite common. (RELATED: US Border Agents Are Inspecting Immigrants’ Facebook Activity, Says Immigration Lawyer)
The FBI and a data analysis company reportedly have a contract that allows the agency to scan Twitter users more rapidly and efficiently.
Facebook recently added clarification to its platform policies “to more clearly explain that developers cannot ‘use data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance.’” It felt the need to update its guidelines due to public concerns that law enforcement is acquiring hoards of people’s personal information from third parties that work with the social media company.
A government report released in August showed that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives illegally stockpiles gun owners’ personal information.