Here's a story that may cause you to scratch your head. I sure am, especially considering my enduring respect for the Arkansas State Police.
It begins Nov. 29, 2014, at the Wal-Mart in Searcy where 27-year-old James Andrew "Drew" Tanner was shopping with his holstered .45 pistol in plain view. He said wearing his sidearm openly wasn't illegal, plus he had the state-police-issued concealed-carry permit in his wallet.
As a Marine recruit with an honorable medical discharge, Drew has always taken seriously his oath made to uphold the U.S. Constitution.
As he shopped, a store video captured events. A man clad in jeans and a T-shirt approached from a position where Drew couldn't see an obvious badge.
"He asked if I was with law enforcement. I told him no," said Drew. "Then he said 'State police. Identify yourself!' Not being shown a badge, I had no idea who the man was and broke away from his grip on my arm. I asked him to stay away."
Still uncertain of this stranger, Drew said he walked off while using his cell phone to call 911, Drew identified himself to the Searcy police dispatcher and said he was being accosted by a man calling himself an officer. She told him to remain in the store.
Off-duty trooper Kurt Ziegenhorn from Troop D in Forrest City, 90 minutes from Searcy, then produced his badge in front of the Wal-Mart store manager and asked if he wanted a person open-carrying a firearm in his store.
In contradiction to Wal-Mart's corporate policy, the manager said he didn't. So Drew agreed to leave. Ziegenhorn escorted him outside where, Drew told me, he "yelled obscenities and waved his finger in my face because I hadn't immediately identified myself."
Local police arrived within minutes. After checking Drew had a concealed-carry license and hadn't been creating any problems before being confronted, they saw no legal problem and released him.
Afterwards, Drew contacted Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters and received emailed confirmation they didn't have a policy against openly carrying in their stores, but rather followed each state's laws. In Arkansas, open-carry is legal. Drew also filed a complaint with the state police over the way Ziegenhorn had behaved toward him.
On Dec. 3, Drew returned to the Wal-Mart with the company's email in hand (without his weapon) to show the store's manager. Video shows within seconds of him entering the store that day, Trooper Ziegenhorn, in uniform and driving an ASP cruiser, pulled into the parking lot.
Drew said the officer approached him inside as he waited for the manager and asked if he was carrying his weapon. Drew told him he didn't have to respond. When the officer persisted, Drew said he conceded he was not.
Ziegenhorn then again asked for Drew's identification. Now feeling harassed, Drew said the trooper had just called him by name and, since he'd originally shown his identification he saw no reason to repeat it, especially since he knew he was doing nothing wrong.
Drew said Ziegenhorn then placed him in handcuffs and removed the driver's license and permit from the wallet he retrieved from his pocket. He then escorted Drew outside to his patrol car where he detained him for about 30 minutes before releasing him while keeping the permit. Later that day, the trooper filed a request for an arrest warrant against Drew alleging obstruction of governmental operations and "carrying a weapon."
Drew had gone home to file a second complaint against Ziegenhorn.
Searcy police wouldn't serve Drew's arrest warrant for another six weeks. In the months that followed, Drew faced hearings in district and White County Circuit Court where the charges were dismissed, but not before costing him some $2,000 for fees and an attorney.
Hearings before the state police and circuit court to have ASP return Drew's concealed-carry permit went nowhere. An internal ASP investigation cleared Ziegenhorn of any impropriety and, after writing sometimes angry expletives about his treatment on ASP's website, Drew said he was blocked from further postings. His previous messages were erased.
Flash-forward to late last month when Fort Smith Attorney W. Whitfield Hyman filed suit in Eastern District Federal Court against State Police Director Bill Bryant, Ziegenhorn, Public Affairs Director Bill Sadler and various John Does.
That civil action alleges malicious prosecution, unlawful search and seizure, violation of civil rights and the state's Freedom of Information Act, as well as other constitutionally related charges.
For me this case is filled with many questions hopefully to be answered in deposition. Why wasn't this misunderstanding resolved in the first three minutes through a professional and civil approach? How was it this trooper arrived in uniform at the store days later within 30 seconds of Drew's arrival? Didn't the officer fully understand the state's open-carry law or Wal-Mart's corporate policy on firearms before approaching Tanner?
My noggin's still itching.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at email@example.com.
Editorial on 12/17/2017
Print Headline: Detaining Drew