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Rifle-Toting Teen Found Not Guilty; Jury Says: 'We Upheld the Law'

A seven-member jury acquitted Troy's Sean Combs of disturbing the peace and brandishing a firearm after the 18-year-old was discovered carrying a rifle in downtown Birmingham.

BLOOMFIELD TWP. — Sean Combs, the Troy 18-year-old , was found not guilty Thursday afternoon of brandishing a firearm and disturbing the peace.

After nearly five hours of deliberation on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning at the , many on the seven-member jury were confident in their final decision.

"We upheld the law," said Rev. Julius DelPino, a jury member from Rochester Hills. "Based on how the law is written, (Combs) was not breaking the law."

Combs was arrested on April 13 after he was stopped by two Birmingham Police officers while he had his loaded M1 Garand rifle slung over his shoulder. When officers asked for identification, Combs refused.

As an adult, Combs was legally able to carry the rifle — a birthday present from an older brother — and under Michigan law, he wasn't required to show police ID. However, that Combs appeared very young and upon refusing show ID, Combs caused enough of a disturbance to attract a crowd.

A third charge of obstructing an officer was dismissed Wednesday by Judge Marc Barron due to lack of evidence.

'I'm not a rebel,' Combs says

However, jury members agreed with Combs and the arguments presented by his attorney, Jim Makowski, a Dearborn-based attorney who specializes in Second Amendment issues.

"(The jury) came out with the right verdict," said Combs outside the courtroom Thursday, after being hugged by his mother, girlfriend and an older brother. Combs' father, a retired police officer, was not present.

Combs said carrying the rifle that night in Birmingham was a form of self-expression.

"I broke a social rule," Combs said. "There's a reason to have those rules, but I don't think every social rule should be followed to a tee."

Outside of that April incident, Combs said he's not the rebel many believe him to be. Combs, who graduated from Troy High School this spring where he was captain of the track team, is looking to study engineering at Oakland Community College in the fall.

"I get that punk rebel kid thing a lot," Combs said. "(But) I was never a rebel in school. I was not afraid to show my opinion, but I'm not a rebel."

Combs' mother, Pam Nitnyk, said she was nervous going into Wednesday's trial but is relieved everything turned out the way it did.

"I was nervous but fairly confident," Nitnyk said. "I was depending on seven people who didn't know my son."

"I just think everyone needs to be know the laws," she added.

Case attracts attention of open carry advocates

Makowski said Thursday's verdict reaffirmed Michigan's open carry laws and most importantly, distinguished open carry from "brandishing."

"Open carry is not brandishing and brandishing is not open carry, there is a distinction," Makowski said, adding, "If I feel the need to openly carry a long gun, the courts have affirmed that I can do that."

Since Combs' arrest, the case has caused an uproar in the open carry community, which has rallied around Combs to show its support.

Open carry advocates, many of whom learned about Combs' case on opencarry.org, have gathered as a group in Birmingham's twice now — and — while openly carrying rifles and pistols in support of Combs.

“The verdict was congruent with the laws as they are written," said Ken Herman, a Clio resident and participant in the June open carry protest in Shain Park. “It is just another relief that our justice system has come through and his peers were able to remain objective in finding a verdict.”

However, while the written by Makowski and the prosecuting attorney, Mary Kucharek of Beier Howlett, P.C., the jury actually spent the most time debating the disturbing the peace charge.

After spending two hours in deliberation on Wednesday, the jury returned at 5 p.m. noting they had reached a verdict on the brandishing charge but not the disturbing the peace charge. The jury spent nearly three additional hours debating that charge Thursday morning.

Combs says civil suit still on the table

The big question after the trial, however: will Combs do it again?

Combs said that Friday night in April was the only night he intended to openly carry his rifle, anyway.

"I probably won't be doing something like this in the near future," Combs said Thursday. "I just want to get away from the stress and the drama and be a normal person again."

Despite finding Combs not guilty, however, several jurors noted they don't necessarily agree with Combs' actions that April night and think there's room in Michigan law for tighter regulation of firearms.

"As a people, we preserve our freedom by restraining our government. But we preserve civilization by restraining ourselves," said Bloomfield Township real estate lawyer and juror Ed Kickham. "There's some gaps in our law (regarding identifying yourself to police officers)."

Still, Kickham noted even if he disagrees with Combs' actions, no law was broken and that was what the jury had to decide in this case.

"I think the police officers behaved in a perfectly reasonable manner," he said. "But I don't think it rose to a breach of the peace."

Combs said while he's been cleared of criminal charges, there are no plans for a civil suit at this time but the idea is still on the table.

uknowimright July 12, 2012 at 11:37 PM
I think this is an excellent example of how the police are overstepping their bounds. Under Michigan Law, as a pedestrian, you are NOT required to either carry, nor provide ID to an officer. Yes, he was carrying a firearm, but as long as he was not aiming it at anyone, then he was well within his rights. I've read so many cases over the years of where police conduct what's referred to as "stop and frisk" or "stop and ID" maneuvers on citizens on the street. It's a huge problem in NYC, where they primarily target minorities. In Michigan, because of the crime levels, police feel justified to stretch the law to suit their needs. This is NOT the communist east bloc where you have to carry your "papers" on you at all times. Good on you, boy, for exercising your rights! Don't ever let a cop intimidate you.
art July 13, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Once again, common sense wins out over a reactionary situation. College tuition looks like it could be paid for by the Birmingham citizens.
Amy Cardin July 13, 2012 at 01:16 PM
While Mr. Combs was indeed within his legal rights to carry his weapon openly and refuse to show ID to the officers who stopped him, let's think of the other side of the coin for a moment. What IF the young man had been some crazed lunatic who began open firing on the pedestrians as they innocently walked? I am all about citizens' rights, but I also appreciate the amazingly difficult job police officers have as they walk a tight rope between the letter if the law and keeping all of us safe. I have to say, I'm happy they asked the question.
Paul Taros July 13, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Amy, you are a great example of our failed educational system. In this country people are innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, anybody carrying a gun is considered a law abiding citizen and is not a threat until proven otherwise.
Robert Chambers July 13, 2012 at 03:44 PM
What if? What if he'd have been observed doing NOTHING wrong and not interfered with? His life would have been unchanged and BPD wouldn't have a black eye in the PR department.
Anton July 13, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Paul, you hit the nail on the head! There is almost no such thing as innocent until proven guilty in our quick-to-judge society. Everyone is worried about the "what if" factor of people who own and carry guns. The police do have a tough job, but if he was simply carrying a rifle, slung over your shoulder, there is no reason to harass the kid. Plus the cops saying he looked young sounds like profiling to me!
Shane OBrien July 13, 2012 at 03:59 PM
What if? What if Obama hadn't been elected? We would be a much better off Nation. But that's not the case, so we'll have to vote out the dictator-in-chief and move on!
Aaron M. July 13, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Your "scenario" is why laws regarding concealed carry and open carry should not even exist--they are unconstitutional and ridiculous. The founders of this Republic knew that an armed society is a polite one, and that the responsibility for ones own personal safety is not on the shoulders of any public servant but on the INDIVIDUAL! If more people were armed--and the law was more friendly to them--a crazed maniac would have little chance of inflicting wide-spread carnage, as he'd be put down like a rabid animal very quickly. The sad reality of the world is that most police officers have NO CLUE what the law actually is! They see a gun and they over-react and turn into KGB/Gestapo types demanding "papers" and barking at people--and too often shooting them for not complying with their ridiculous and illegal commands. In this case it was the police who caused the disturbance of the peace and the jury no doubt realized that, hence the acquittal on all charges.
Rumplestilskin July 13, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Amy Cardin, safety is not freedom and freedom is not safety. Safety isn't a right that is guaranteed in life. I don't want the police to keep me safe from all of life's dangers, it wouldn't be life. It would be prison. And sadly too many people want safety provided by the state, and this bs is sold to us by scum bag lawyers who sue if someone didn't get it. It's sad that people like you want to live in a "Minority Report" type world where the "crime" is stopped before it's committed. Thought control is a scary evil thing, it's the opposite of liberty and freedom.
Robert Foster July 13, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Although I appreciate everyones comments and opinions, we have to look at the big picture. This young man was just trying to make a point, and he did. Rebel? I would say not. Jackass? Probably. I'm sure he knew the law, as his father is a retired police officer, who was apparently too embarassed to show up in court for his son. There are good things and bad things about this incident. For one, the jury got it right. And that's nice to see the justice system work, even though opponents will disagree. But the Michigan law that states you don't have to identify yourself to Police is wrong. Most states have laws on the books to address that issue and require you to identify yourself when asked by a Police Officer. It's not a matter of harassment. What's the harm in telling the police who you are? Open carry, well, that is a whole can of worms. Should we allow it? I don't have the wisdom of Solomon to say one way or the other. But I would have the opinion that it will cause more problems than solutions. In closing, I will say bravo to the young man and his victory in court. But, like he said, he probably won't be carrying in the open again anytime soon. Probably a smart idea. As for the Police Officers, I think you did your due diligence in upholding your oath to protect and serve. If you don't stop the gentleman, someone will criticize you, as well. You did what you felt was the right thing to do. No fault there. For the record, I'm a Police Officer with almost 30 yrs experience.
jackkwebb July 13, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Even though I think open carry should be legal everywhere, I still think actually practicing open carry is a bad idea. By carrying the gun concealed in an accessible manner, the carrier is maintaining the advantage. Open carry attracts too much attention from everyone--the police, law-abiding citizens, AND criminals. Using the "what if" senario again....what if you're in a convience store carrying your side arm openly on your hip and some thug decided to rob the store. The hardened criminal with nothing to lose will just shoot you first. Keep it concealed and keep them guessing, don't advertise to the criminal element that you're the one that's armed.
Rev. Alan Du Brul July 13, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Anton: IN this country we DO still have the" Innocent until proven guilty" standard. That applies to the courts, not on the street. Under the (published) circumstances, I believe the police acted appropriately. Sean Combs had just turned 18 yrs. old. The legal age to openly carry a long gun. Now look at the picture of him in the court house. This young man LOOKS young. The police have a responsibility to "investigate" possible crimes. Here you have an admittedly young man walking the street with a (loaded) firearm, in plain view. The police are required to insure that he is legally permitted to do so. This is "Probable Cause". In the normal routine of doing their job, they request ID. After all, they must ascertain that he IS, IN FACT, legally permitted to carry. In my state, it is the law to produce ID to law enforcement officers, on demand, when they are conducting criminal investigations. That means if they have probable cause to believe that a person is in violation of ANY law, they investigate to determine the validity of that possibility. I was not at the scene while the incident unfolded, so I can not attest to the conduct of the officers, though nothing was stated in the news release to indicate that they acted inappropriately. The fact is, though, they did act legally. The police officers were doing just what the citizens were paying them to do.
Trent O July 13, 2012 at 07:13 PM
I'm sorry OC is is a deterrent. Most "harden criminals" will find a easier target. Even the most drugged out crack head, has the ability of self preservation. BTW if OC is such a disadvantage why do Police and military OC? I OC every day, I'm not worried about some paramilitary assault. I'm worried about druggies that will and have been scared of the sight of my sidearm. When you CC you blend in with the rest of the sheep. Meaning the chance of you having to use it go way up. More then if you OC to begin with. I don't want to use my sidearm. So I advertise my life is worth something. To me at least.
Samaj July 13, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Bravo Rumple well put!
jacob popple July 13, 2012 at 07:26 PM
not everyone that carrys a gun is out to kill people and society needs to stop thinking that way and needs to relize that law abiding citizens that do carry are their to protect people. Police can only respond to things that allready happend and they cant prevent crime. But a pedestian who is open carrying can.
GP July 13, 2012 at 09:15 PM
"As for the Police Officers, I think you did your due diligence in upholding your oath to protect and serve. If you don't stop the gentleman, someone will criticize you, as well. You did what you felt was the right thing to do. No fault there. For the record, I'm a Police Officer with almost 30 yrs experience." - WRONG! They arrested him without cause - proven in court. A civil suit is justified here. The officers did not know the law they are sworn to uphold. To be criticized for *upholding the law* is what they were afraid of, and IMO, they do not deserve to be Police officers for "creating their own law" to suit the circumstance. They caused this young man and his family undue hardship, and they should pay for their "mistake".
Dangerwing July 13, 2012 at 09:39 PM
And what if he was? Do you think a law banning open (or concealed for that matter) would have stopped him? I mean, do you think he would have been at home, planning his wild rampage, then all of the sudden, stopped and said to himself "Well damn, I was going to go commit mass murder, but I just realized that carrying a gun is illegal. I guess I'll just sit at home and watch re-runs of Friends instead because I wouldn't want to commit a crime by carrying a gun. Committing the much more haneous crime of mass indescriminant murder is perfectly okay, but carry a gun? Thats just too far". On the other hand, if some whack job actually DID open fire, this guy would have been able to at the very least defend himself, and maybe save countless lives.
Robert Hill July 13, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Oh Amy, what if, what if, what if.... That little mistake the police made just cost, young Mr. Combs, the City of Birmingham and the State of Michigan quite a bit of money. Obviously the police and the prosecutor are not properly educated on the laws they are sworn to up-hold. Or who knows, maybe they were seeking to twist the laws a bit to fit their interpretation. Don't worry, the taxpayers are here to pick up the tab.
Christ Pettitt July 14, 2012 at 07:53 AM
Stop and Frisk is the law in NYC, not just something "they do". It's almost as unconstitutional as it gets, but it's also Liberal Central there. That "law" is the reason I don't go to NYC anymore, among other things.
Daniel M. July 14, 2012 at 08:38 PM
I love this discussion. There ARE still people in this country with some common sense. I agree with both. Open carry and concealed. One to ward off and one to deal with those who don't get the point. My beef is with the crap about "permits" and "licenses". Permits and licenses are for those who have the *privilege* of something, not those who have a right.
Racerahm July 15, 2012 at 08:59 PM
What about the "Innocent until proven guilty"? Why did the young man have to prove he was old enough to carry the rifle? Weren't the police assuming he was guilty of being too young?

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