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ACLU Settles Lawsuit Over Unlawful Seizure of Weapons by Cranston Police

Posted: October 12, 2012|Category: Police Practices

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The ACLU today announced the settlement of a lawsuit it had filed in June against the City of Cranston on behalf of a resident who challenged the refusal of the police department to return to him a variety of lawfully possessed weapons that had been seized from him over a year ago. The lawsuit, filed by RI ACLU volunteer attorney Thomas W. Lyons on behalf of Robert Machado, argued that the Cranston Police Department had violated his right to due process and his right to keep and bear arms by retaining his property without just cause.

Under the settlement, the City agreed to return the weapons to Machado in the same condition as they were when they were seized, or to reimburse him for the cost of repairing and replacing any weapons damaged or not returned. The City also agreed to pay Machado $2,500 in damages as well as $2,000 in attorneys’ fees.

In September of last year, police and fire paramedics came to Machado’s house after receiving a call from a friend of his that he might be suicidal. Machado told the police that his friend had misconstrued a conversation they had had, but he agreed to be transported to the hospital for a mental health evaluation. The examination found no problems and he was promptly released from the hospital. Unbeknownst to Machado, however, police in the meantime seized for “safe keeping” from his home various weapons he lawfully possessed, including firearms and a collection of ceremonial samurai swords.

Eager to have his possessions returned, Machado followed up by obtaining a letter from his psychotherapist that he had never “demonstrated suicidal tendencies or thoughts,” and “there should be no concern” returning his weapons. The police still refused to release them and advised Machado that he would need to obtain a court order to get them back. After further unsuccessful efforts to get his items returned, Machado contacted the ACLU, leading to the lawsuit which had challenged the police department’s practices on constitutional grounds.

ACLU attorney Lyons said today, “We were very happy to have gotten a relatively quick and favorable result for Mr. Machado. However, the resolution of this case does not address whether there are any circumstances under which police departments may legally cease and retain weapons held by law-abiding citizens. That issue may have to be resolved in another case.”

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