St. Paul police wrongly seized a gun and have refused for two years to release it to its owner, according to a federal lawsuit.
The suit, filed Monday, alleges that St. Paul police violated plaintiff Jared Sande's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure and Fifth Amendment right to due process.
"It is the Defendant's policy to take the firearms of private citizens, retain them despite the fact that any criminal investigation has ended without providing a pre-deprivation hearing or a post-deprivation hearing," said the suit filed by Sande's attorney, A.L. Brown.
Sande, 27, a lifelong St. Paul resident, said police have given him confusing instructions and information. It's especially concerning, Sande and Brown said Tuesday, because Sande was never charged with a crime related to the gun or a July 2015 traffic stop during which it was confiscated.
"I don't really understand taking … property and fumbling around and giving me the runaround," Sande said. "They're not being truthful about where my property stands."
Sgt. Mike Ernster, a police spokesman, said he could not address questions about the lawsuit because it is pending.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) confirmed Tuesday that St. Paul police gave them Sande's gun in July 2015 for ballistics testing, and that the results were entered in the National Integrated Ballistic Identification Network (NIBIN) database. The NIBIN is used by authorities to determine whether a gun has been used in the commission of a crime.
That was news to Sande and Brown.
"I don't think they can go out searching firearms at whim without a warrant or some probable cause," Brown said. "It doesn't help law enforcement" to enter Sande's gun in the NIBIN, "but it steps on his rights."
The suit names Chief Todd Axtell as the sole defendant, and was filed as a class-action lawsuit, with the intention that Brown would seek out other plaintiffs attempting to retrieve belongings from the police department.
According to the suit: Sande's vehicle was stopped by officers in unmarked squads in July 2015. A "small" amount of marijuana and a digital scale were found in the car, which Sande's passenger claimed was his. Police also recovered Sande's Springfield Armory XD40, .40-caliber gun from the door of the vehicle.
Sande was licensed to carry the firearm, the suit said. Police arrested Sande, questioned and released him. Police returned his license to carry, but not the gun.
Sande asked about his gun several times, and was told in December 2015 that he could retrieve it from the department's property room. But Sande was denied.
"Plaintiff has no criminal convictions that would prevent him from possessing a firearm," the suit said.
Sande wrote Axtell a letter in April 2016 asking for his gun, but was denied again, and was most recently informed on Aug. 22, 2017 that he could not retrieve his gun, the suit alleges.
A police employee wrote Sande a letter saying that evidence retention policy required that the gun be sent to the BCA for ballistic testing, and that it remain in police custody until July 28, 2018.
The letter informed Sande that his gun was sent to the BCA in July 2015, but Sande said he was not informed of its current whereabouts. BCA spokeswoman Jill Oliveira said Tuesday that Sande's gun was returned to St. Paul police on Sept. 17, 2015.
Sande is asking for a jury trial and an unspecified monetary award for damages. The suit also seeks an injunction to stop St. Paul police from keeping guns that are not being held as evidence or contraband without a court hearing, and, an injunction against warrantless searches of firearms that aren't part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708