The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a civil lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles for gun confiscation and destruction to proceed.
A former Glendale police officer Wayne Wright is demanding close to $5 million after the city confiscated and destroyed his gun collection consisting of 300 firearms after a sting operation in 2004.
Wright pled guilty to a single felony count of possession of an “assault weapon,” which was reduced to a misdemeanor.
The plaintiff had over 400 firearms valued at about $500,000 in his Ventura County’s Simi Valley home during the operation.
He claimed that all the weapons were acquired lawfully and were less valuable as street firearms but highly precious as collectibles, according to the lawsuit. They included old 19th-century military rifles and early 20th century handguns, shotguns, and military rifles.
“Plaintiff’s firearm collection consisted of pistols, revolvers, long guns and paraphernalia that had great value as collector’s items, but very little value as ‘street weapons’ or as tools of terrorism.”
Wright obtained an ex parte order from Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Melvin Sandvig in December 2013 and had 80 firearms returned. Sandvig had issued the 2004 confiscation order. The same court had issued an order in 2011 directing the parties to resolve the ownership dispute out of court and return only if they could not reach a resolution.
After the guns were destroyed, Wright demanded at least $4,862,950.00 in his July 31, 2015 lawsuit filed under 42 U.S.C. §1983. He argued that the city of Los Angeles was liable for the unconstitutional actions of its employees under the Monell doctrine for failing to train its officers adequately.
District Court Judge Manuel L. Real of the Central District of California ruled on December 19, 2018, that Wright’s Fourteenth Amendment rights were not violated because he wasn’t entitled notification of the impending destruction of his firearms by the Los Angeles Police Department.
Additionally, the judge also ruled that the officer who obtained the court order from Los Angeles Superior Court, Detective James Edwards, was covered by qualified immunity because he acted according to the law.
However, Judge Richard A. Paez now believes that although the police department followed legal procedures, Wright was entitled to notification and a court hearing.
“We have no problem concluding that a rational trier of fact could find a due process violation under these circumstances. The wealth of precedent suggests that by failing to provide Wright with notice and the opportunity to be heard before the court issued the destruction order. Edwards denied Wright the most basic and fundamental guarantees of due process.”
The three-panel judge also rejected the qualified immunity protection argument for the Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and City Attorney Mike Feuer. The court ruled that such protections were only granted to officers sued as individuals while the two were mentioned in their official capacities.
Notable, Wright had 80 firearms returned using an ex parte order after LAPD officers frustrated his attempts to recover his guns. They accused him of failing to provide documentation, a claim the court rejected and ordered them returned.
Wright was not prosecuted for owning the guns, although the overzealous police department proceeded to destroy them before Wright could recover them. This case shows how public officers can enforce illegal gun control with impunity. We hope that Wright will be adequately compensated for the violation.
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