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Police Pay Price For Bad Advice From CA DOJ

April 6, 2015

Police Pay The Price For Following Bad Advice From California DOJ When Sued For Not Returning Guns

When Michael Roberts voluntarily surrendered the 21 firearms in his gun collection to the Torrance Police Department three years ago, he had every reason to believe he would get them back.  Having been served with a temporary restraining order as the result of an argument in a doctor’s office, state law required him to surrender them to his local law enforcement agency until the dispute was resolved.  When it was resolved, he got the restraining order lifted and then went to get the guns back. But Torrance refused to return them, relying on bad legal advice from the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to withhold the guns.

With the help of attorneys at Michel & Associates, P.C., and with assistance from the California Rifle & Pistol Association and the NRA, Roberts got two court orders requiring Torrance police to return the firearms. Torrance still would not return the guns, and then destroyed all but four of the firearms.

Roberts’ lawyers fought back with a federal civil rights lawsuit. To settle that suit, Torrance has agreed to change its firearms’ release policy to prevent future abuses and has reimbursed Roberts $30,000.00 for the value of the firearms. The lawsuit resulting in the Torrance settlement and policy change was Michael Roberts v. [TPD Chief] Mark Matsuda, U.S.D.C. Central District of California Case No. CV14-03723 R(MANx)

In settling the case, Torrance expressly blamed the California DOJ for the bad advice it gave to Torrance. That same bad advice also goes to other police departments.  State law requires that DOJ do a background check of anyone seeking return of their guns, and then issue a Law Enforcement Gun Release (LEGR) eligibility letter once DOJ confirms the person’s record is clean.  But DOJ’s LEGR letter, which is presented to every law enforcement agency by the person seeking the return of firearms, gets the law wrong. DOJ’s LEGR letter tells police that people have to register their guns in the state database or provide ownership documents before they can get their guns back. That’s wrong.

The bad legal advice in DOJ’s letter sets a trap for all police departments, which often rely on DOJ to accurately inform them of their legal duties. Along with Torrance, both the San Francisco and Oakland police departments have also been sued for having similar illegal firearm return policies based on DOJ’s bad advice. Tellingly, when DOJ was sued in that case, it successfully got out of the cases by arguing that it wasn’t legally liable because it merely gave the police the bad advice – it was the police agencies’ fault for actually following it!

NRA and CRPA provided much support in securing this CRPA victory will now be sending information to all California police departments educating these law enforcement agencies about the law governing the return of firearms, and correcting the bad advice in the DOJ’s eligibility letter. Agencies that follow the bad advice in the DOJ’s letter are violating state law and will face NRA/CRPA legal action.

Police Pay The Price For Following Bad Advice From California DOJ When Sued For Not Returning Guns

When Michael Roberts voluntarily surrendered the 21 firearms in his gun collection to the Torrance Police Department three years ago, he had every reason to believe he would get them back.  Having been served with a temporary restraining order as the result of an argument in a doctor’s office, state law required him to surrender them to his local law enforcement agency until the dispute was resolved.  When it was resolved, he got the restraining order lifted and then went to get the guns back. But Torrance refused to return them, relying on bad legal advice from the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to withhold the guns.

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