Matt Akins, founder of the watchdog organization Citizens for Justice, will be joining two father-son pairs as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Columbia Police Department and Boone County Prosecutor Daniel Knight. With the addition of Akins, the lawsuit is seeking $12,620,000 for total damages from the defendants.
Stephen Wyse, a former military police sergeant, is representing all plaintiffs. Wyse released a news release announcing the addition of Akins as a new plaintiff, who will be seeking damages in excess of $1,435,000 for what he claims was an illegal gun seizure, police retaliation for the exercise of his First Amendment rights and malicious prosecutions by the Boone County Prosecutors office.
"Matt, like all the plaintiffs, except Raymond Franklin, had (a) weapon wrongfully seized and held for at least a year without cause," Wyse said. "Matt has the most direct and numerous CPD retaliatory actions against him."
The lawsuit accuses officials of violating Second Amendment rights. It took law enforcement 14 months to return guns taken from plaintiffs Allan and Gregory Rodgers and nearly four years to return 10 weapons seized from plaintiffs Robert and Raymond Franklin.
Akins' Bersa .380 handgun was seized at a sobriety checkpoint on Forum Boulevard in May 2010.
"As I pulled up to the checkpoint and rolled down my window, the officer, Sgt. Eric Hughes, took my ID and immediately asked my passenger and I if we had been drinking," Akins said. "When we told him he hadn't, he said 'Well, you've been doing something' and ordered us to step out of the car."
Akins said Hughes displayed a bad attitude toward him and attempted to perform a search without consent. Hughes came across Akins' unloaded handgun during a pat down.
"He patted (the gun) twice, confused, before lifting my shirt and screaming out 'gun,'" Akins said. "I kept my hands high above my head, repeatedly telling him in a calm voice that the gun was legal and asking him to please run the serial number on it. I was cuffed and led toward a sobriety testing or processing area, but halfway there Hughes stopped, cocked the weapon … possibly to see if it was loaded, but either way loading a round into the chamber …and handed it off to another officer."
Hughes told Akins he wasn't allowed to have the gun because he did not have a conceal and carry permit.
"I informed Hughes that I believed I had a constitutional right to carry the gun," Akins said. "I believed I was allowed to carry the firearm anywhere in my vehicle, (but) my car was impounded, I was booked for unlawful use of a weapon and had to hire an attorney for the six-month legal battle that would ensue."
According to a Missouri State Highway Patrol brochure on Missouri concealed weapons law, a weapon may be carried anywhere in a vehicle, even concealed on the person, under Missouri's Peaceable Journey Statute.
"When I received Hughes' report, I noticed several errors, including Hughes' accusation that he had recovered the firearm from me fully loaded, readily capable of lethal use with a bullet in the chamber," Akins said. "There was not a bullet in the chamber until Hughes put one there."
Akins repeatedly sent requests for the footage of his checkpoint arrest. In fall 2010, he was told that it had either been deleted, disappeared or never existed and his case was dropped.
On Feb. 22, Akins emailed Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton and prosecutor Daniel Knight requesting the return of his handgun.
"I believe Matt has a lot to offer as a plaintiff," Wyse said. "The police misconduct directed at Matt and the retaliation against him for his work with CFJ add great weight to the retaliation claim that Greg Rodgers has against CPD for its unfounded weapons arrest and wrongful seizure of most of his weapons for 14 months."