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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.

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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