Michael has asked me to post this incident here in the forums, and I am doing so. Please understand if I, in my limited wisdom, accidentally misname some of the "legal" actions taken.
The day is 25 September, 2013. It is Sunday, and the last day of "Youth Hunt" in the State of Michigan. I and my then 10 year old son are out in a 2-man ladder stand, on our private property, with a Barnet C-5, Wildcat crossbow and a single shot .410 gauge shotgun. My son had shot the crossbow often, but had little experience with the shotgun. After getting settled in the stand, I asked him which weapon he would prefer to use, since by the laws here in MI, 2 weapons could be taken into the field for the youth to choose from. After some deliberation, he chose the crossbow, so I held the unloaded, open-breech shotgun.
At approximately 3pm, we heard the sound of an off road vehicle. This is not uncommon for us. We own 10 acres in northern Michigan. To our east, the 6.8 acres is owned by 2 brothers and a nephew, all three of whom enjoy riding 4 wheelers. We had reached an agreement with them about riding their vehicles while we were hunting, but that wasn't a guarantee they wouldn't be out when we were. To the west, the front 5 acres are owned by a bar that people liked arriving at on off road vehicles, to avoid being caught drunk driving, and the back 5 acres were a private residence that liked driving their 4 wheel drive trucks around the perimiter as if it were a dirt track. Directly behind us, to the north, is another 10 acre lot owned by a couple who come up twice a year to camp, and at the north-east corner there is the Huron National Forest, that had until 2 years ago had open off road vehicle (ORV) trails open to the public.
After a few minutes of listening to the ORV, we still couldn't determine where it was. The sound first sounded like it was coming from the neighbors to the east, then to the west and then straight from the house (on the south end of our property). Finally, I saw the single headlight of a dirt bike coming up the foot path that my son and I had used to get to the treestand (a generic, 18', 2-man ladder stand). We watched as the dirt bike slowly approached from the read for a few minutes, until he made a turn from his north-south travel to the east, or directly towards us. At that point, I stood in the treestand and yelled at the top of my lungs for him to stop.
About me: I am 6'4, 235 lbs., and disabled. I had spinal fusion in Feb 2011 due to a work injury. Physically I am in reasonable shape, but I have problems with my left leg, since the left sciatic nerve was seriously damaged in the work injury and resulting physical therapy. I now often walk with a limp because my left leg is hurting, and have little to no feeling in my left foot. I am also an Army veteran, and very familiar with the operations, care, use and maintenance of firearms. This makes climbing ladders difficult. At the time of the incident, I was also wearing a full-body fall-arrest harness, properly attached to the tree upon which the ladder stand was affixed, which means that I couldn't stand completely straight.
After the dirt biker stopped, I ordered him to shut off his bike and remove his helmet from my half-standing position in the treestand. After his helmet was off and I could verify that he wasn't one of my older son's friends out joy-riding, I disconnected the fall-arrest harness and began to climb down from the treestand. On a good day, I can manage to make it down the ladder in about 2 minutes. On a bad day it takes me almost 5. That day happened to be a good day, perhaps due to the adrenaline that was flowing, and I made it down the ladder in a reasonable amount of time. As I was climbing down, I directed my son to contact his mother on his cell phone to have her call the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to inform them that we had caught a trespasser in the process of "Disturbing the Hunt," which is a misdemeanor here in MI. When I finally managed to get down from the stand, I walked the 50' too the trespasser and asked him if he had any identification on him; the whole time I carried the shotgun at the position of "Port Arms," which is to say my left hand was under the barrel and my right hand on top of the butt, with the weapon held in a diagonal position across my chest with the muzzle in the air over my left shoulder. The trespasser admitted to having ID and started pulling his wallet out. I told him that I wouldn't need to see it, but that the police would when they arrived. I then informed him that we were going to the front of the property, where we would await the arrival of the police.
In the mean time, my wife had contacted the DNR and an officer was enroute, but he would be a while responding since he was at the southern edge of his territory. I ordered my son to discharge the crossbow safely away from both the trespasser and myself, and to climb down, which he did. After he was on the ground, the three of us marched to the front of the property, roughly 1000 feet. When we arrived at the front of the property, by the house, I had one of my sons get a chair for the trespasser to sit in, while I stayed well out of his reach. At no time did I touch him, not to frisk him for weapons or anything. Once he was sitting, I went to put my hunting gear away, and he informed me, "I'm gonna tell the cops you pointed that gun at me." The breech was still open at this time, and I responded, "You can lie all you want, but pointing an open breech weapon at someone is useless, and I'm sure you know that."
This is where I probably began making my fatal mistakes.
Since I didn't want the police inside my home, tearing it up searching for the shotgun, I chose to keep it with me while we waited for the DNR to arrive. My wife took the remainder of my hunting gear (coat, gloves and fall-arrest harness) inside, as well as my son and the crossbow. The DNR officer called back and said that since he wasn't going to arrive in a timely manner, he was going to call county officers to respond. The problem with THAT statement is that we are on the border of Roscommon and Crawford Counties...and they don't play nicely with each other. The DNR officer was at the southern boundary of Roscommon County, and we reside at the very southern boundary of Crawford County. When he put the call in for county officers to respond, he expected Roscommon County Sheriffs to respond. Instead we had Crawford County Sheriffs respond.
Why is that important? We've had issues in the past with Crawford County Sheriffs. First, the rundown bar next door is the after-hours hang-out for some of them. Second, we've filed multiple reports for trespassing in the past, to no avail. We've also submitted photographic evidence of the trespassers with time and date stamp, collected via game/trail cameras. We attempted to file a sexual assault charge when one man entered the tree line between us and the bar to relieve himself, and upon spying my then 5 year old daughter, offered to let her, "Hold it," while he relieved himself. Unfortunately, she didn't get a good enough look at him to be able to point him out to the officer when he arrived for that report. All of these reports to the Crawford County Sheriffs went unanswered. When I was informed via a telephone call from a sergeant that the county would not be pressing any charges, I asked him, "What do I have to do, catch one in the act for you?" His response at that time was, "That would help."
At or about 5pm 2 Crawford County Sheriffs, in separate vehicles, arrived. I was standing behind my wife's van as they pulled into the drive, but stepped to stand in plain view between hers and my vehicles with the shotgun held by the barrel with 2 fingers and my thumb (still open breech) and a round in my other hand, held with 1 finger and my thumb. I had my arms spread and my hands a little bit above my head, my intent was to demonstrate the weapon was present and unloaded at that time.
The first officer, Deputy Shawn Schnoor, immediately jumped from his patrol car, fumbled to remove his side arm from its holster, then aimed it at me and ordered me to drop the weapon. I attempted to comply and informed the deputy that I was going to put the weapon on the truck (I didn't want sand from the driveway getting in the weapon). He yelled "Drop it!" So, I complied. He ordered me to get face down on the ground and put my hands behind my back, which I did. When I didn't comply quickly enough for him, he shouted his order at me again, and I informed him I had a broken back and was complying as quickly as I could. Once I was face down in the dirt, I informed him that I was the home owner and I had called them. He then approached me, placed his knee in the middle of my back (causing me more pain) and applied handcuffs. By this time, the 2nd deputy, Dep. Ryan Swope, had exited his vehicle. My older son had come outside at this point and I yelled at him to get his mother and to have her video tape the incident. My wife then came out of the house with her cell phone in hand and began filming, asking questions, while remaining on the front porch. Dep. Schnoor orders her to stop filming, saying something to the effect, "You can turn that off now." I responded in a loud voice, "No she can't!" I am eventually trussed up and loaded into the back of Dep. Schnoor's patrol car. While frisking me before loading me into the back seat of his vehicle, Dep. Schnoor asked me if I had any other weapons on me (after running his hand over the hunting knife at my hip and not noticing it. I said, "Just the hunting knife you just touched." (a Schrade, Oldtimer, fixed blade, hook point hunting knife) Once loaded in the vehicle, I can see Dep. Swope on the front porch talking to my wife in a very aggressive manner. I can't hear what he is saying, but I do notice he has her cell phone in his hand. With her cell phone he walks to the back of Dep. Schnoor's patrol car and opens the trunk. After a few moments in the trunk, Dep. Swope returns to the front porch and hands my wife her phone back. He then remains there, in my opinion menacing, until my wife does something on her phone. He then walks back to the trespasser and releases him from handcuffs. At this point the DNR officer arrives. He speaks with both deputies, walks out back to the hunting stand, reviews the fact that there are multiple "No Trespassing" signs at the border of the property, and that the path the dirt biker used wasn't even a "2-track" that are the official ORV trails in MI. While the DNR officer is out at the back of the property, Dep. Swope opens the back door to Dep. Schnoor's patrol car and tells me if I "play nice" he will transfer the cuffs to the front so I can say goodnight to my wife and children. I comment, "So I'm being arrested?" He replied that I am, that I can't assault someone with a deadly weapon and expect to not go to jail.
The result of the whole incident is that I was initially charged with "Assault with a Deadly Weapon, without intent to commit murder," and "Unlawful Detainment." After the initial charges were filed, the sheriffs asked me if I wanted to make a statement (while sitting in the in-processing cell). I said that I chose to exercise my 5th Amendment rights, and didn't speak to anyone. The prosecuting attorney, Everette "Trey" E. Ayers upped the charges, initially, to Assault w/ Deadly Weapon w/o Intent, Possession of a Firearm in the Commission of a Felony, and Kidnapping/Unlawful Detainment with a Firearm as well as Baiting out of Season. The trespasser wasn't going to be charged with anything at all by the deputies, but the DNR officer issued him a trespassing ticket, which was dropped by the prosecutor in exchange for his "testimony."
Eventually this was all taken before 46th District Court's Judge George Mertz. My lawyer, Patrick Fragle, esq. of Traverse City, and the prosecutor worked out a plea deal. I would plead "guilty" to the charges of Assault with a Deadly Weapon Without Intent to Commit Murder, and Attempted Unlawful Detainment, and the other charges would be dropped. My lawyer told me that either I accepted the plea deal or take the full charges to trial. He pointed out that I would be facing up to well over 20 years in jail if I took it to trial and lost, AND that if things went to trial, he would need an additional $5,000.00 within the week to remain on the case. If I accepted the plea deal, the prosecutor was going to recommend a "light" sentence to the judge, but I would still be facing potentially 5 years in jail. I had used the last of any savings that we had as well as funds donated by friends and family, and didn't have any more money. I accepted the plea deal and was sentenced to 10 months in jail. The judge said that I would serve 30 days in jail and 2 years on probation. I served 21 days in jail and was released for good behavior, and am currently serving my 2 years of probation.
Attached is the link to the video my wife shot, and then was ordered to delete by Dep. Swope, who claimed he never told her to delete it in court.
In the video, you see first Dep. Swope, with me on the ground. The camera then pans over to Dep. Schnoor who orders my wife to stop filming. According to my wife, she was threatened with arrest if she didn't stop, so she turned off the video and set her phone on the railing of the front deck. Her fear was the fact that we have 4 children and if both of us were arrested, the children would be picked up by Child Protective Services and we would have THAT fight as well as the incident I've described here.
To the best of my ability, I have described what happened as factually as possible with as little as possible emotional embellishment. My older son set up a Facebook page to help with the legal fees that first night I was in jail. When I was released from jail, I used recovery software to restore the video that my wife had been forced to delete, which was then immediately uploaded to youtube and then linked to the Facebook page my son had made. This caused a great deal of distress for the Crawford County Sheriffs and I was directed by my lawyer, during the back and forth to court, that the prosecutor had suggested we take both the Facebook page and the video down from the internet....it would look better for me if we did. So, both were removed from the internet, but as soon as I was sentenced by Judge Mertz, my wife reinstated both the video and Facebook page.
At this stage of the game, I am open to just about any and all suggestions. Please keep in mind, I am new to this idea that I am a sovereign and am wrapping my head around the whole idea. I personally think that I was fully within my rights to not only stop a trespasser on my private property, but to also detain him for the police. The fact that I had a firearm with me, ON MY OWN PRIVATE PROPERTY should be completely secondary. Michigan is an open carry state, and even still, I was on private property at the time of the incident. I also feel that after having been told by the one sergeant that "it would help" if I caught a trespasser in the act, that I was acting within the direction of the sheriffs department.
What would I like? Well, I'd like to appeal the charges and have my name cleared, but I know that is a very difficult road and one that would probably land me with more jail time. Failing that, I'd like to sue the sheriffs department, the court, the prosecutor and potentially my lawyer for fraud, misinformation and damages. Failing that, I'd like to see the two deputies that accosted my wife, violated her 4th Amendment and 1st Amendment rights, fired.
Not much to ask for, eh? So what are everyone's thoughts?