$2.7 million suit alleges gun-rights violations in Boone County

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 | 7:30 p.m. CST; updated 5:04 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 13, 2013

*This story has been updated to correct the subject of the prosecution's appeal and the timing of Raymond Franklin's release from prison.

COLUMBIA — A $2.7 million lawsuit has been filed against the city of Columbia, Boone County and individuals in the Columbia Police Department and the Boone County Prosecutor’s Office including Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton and Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight.

Among the allegations in the suit is that the police department fabricated a claim — in retaliation for Gregory Rodgers' excessive force complaint to the internal affairs division of the police department — that Rodgers planned to blow up police headquarters.

In the suit, Stephen Wyse is representing two father and son pairs, Allan and Gregory Rodgers, and Robert and Raymond Franklin. The suit centers on claims of wrongful seizure and unreasonably delayed return of firearms by the police department, and of malicious prosecution.

In the case of the Franklins, the lawsuit alleges that the guns were not returned for three years and eight months, despite only one being connected with a crime. Wyse alleges that the one charge in that case, which was eventually dismissed, was an example of malicious prosecution. The case of Gregory Rodgers adds allegations of police misconduct.

Glen Ehrhardt, attorney for Knight, former prosecutor Richard Hicks and Assistant Boone County Prosecutor Cassandra Rogers, said the lawsuit lacked substance.

“The defendants deny all of the plaintiffs’ allegations, and they are confident a jury will determine the allegations are without merit,” Ehrhardt said.

A representative for the Columbia city attorney on behalf of the Columbia Police Department declined to comment on pending litigation.

Allegations in the suit

The following is an account of the allegations in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District Court of Missouri last week.

Three Columbia police officers responded to a roadside 911 call made by Gregory Rodgers in January 2011. After the officers talked to him and handed him back his license, he returned to his car. As Rodgers was getting back into his car, he was assaulted from behind by one of the officers. Another of the officers claimed that they mistook a CD case in Rodgers’ car for a gun.

After the assault, Rodgers filed an excessive force complaint with the Internal Affairs Division of the Police Department and received medical treatment for injuries to his neck and chest.

In May 2011, Rodgers was involved in a traffic accident and assigned a July court date for leaving the scene of the accident. Although he had a doctor’s note dated four days prior to the court date, requesting that the court grant an “excuse” due to treatment for chest pain in the emergency room, he was denied a continuance by the municipal court.

The court authorized enforcement of a warrant for missing his court date in the traffic case due to claims in the court record by the police department that Rodgers had threatened police officers, an attorney and judges in the 13th Circuit of Boone County.

That evening outside his apartment, Rodgers encountered an undercover officer pretending to be looking for a lost dog. During the conversation, Rodgers noticed an approaching police car and began running towards his home. After the undercover officer yelled, “Police, stop,” Rodgers dropped his pistol and lay down, telling the officer that he was giving up and was no longer armed.

*During the arrest, Rodgers told the officers that his valid Florida conceal and carry permit was inside, but he was charged with illegally carrying a concealed firearm. Rodgers filed a motion to dismiss the charge of illegally carrying a concealed firearm, citing his valid Florida concealed carry permit. Florida and Missouri have reciprocity for recognition of conceal and carry permits.

One of the defendants in the larger lawsuit, Assistant Boone County Prosecutor Cassandra Rogers, amended the charge, alleging that Rodgers was a “fugitive from justice” for missing his court date for leaving the scene of a traffic accident. The case was dismissed in trial court and the dismissal was appealed by the prosecution. On Feb. 5, 2013 the appeals court upheld the dismissal, finding that Rodgers’ offense of missing his court date for a traffic accident was not serious enough to warrant labeling him a fugitive.

In the police affidavit asking for a warrant to authorize search and seizure of weapons from Rodgers’ home, the police said the tip about Rodgers' threats came from an anonymous caller who said Rodgers had “armor piercing bullets and will open fire on the police if they attempt to arrest him,” that he “intends to blow up the Columbia Police Department,” and that he “has expressed a desire to kill the judge and the police if there is an attempt to arrest him.”

In the suit, Wyse alleges the threats were fabricated, noting that if Rodgers had made a “terroristic threat” it would be a serious charge but that it was not cited in the warrant nor pursued by the police. Rodgers was in custody for one weekend, Friday to Monday.

“They never pursued those threats, and those were very serious threats,” Wyse said. “Threatening a judge, threatening police officers, threatening to blow up the police department. All of those are individual crimes and if they had a basis for those crimes they would have pursued them, but they didn’t. And that leads me to believe that the claims were fictitious.”

Once the warrant was granted, police searched Rodgers’ residence. They also searched a storage closet in the apartment building. From a gun safe in that closet, they seized 10 firearms, some of which belonged to Rodgers’ father, Allan Rodgers. Wyse alleges that this search and seizure occurred outside the warrant’s authorization.

It took 14 months for all firearms to be returned. The return of firearms in the Franklin case took more than three times as long, the suit claims.

The Franklins

In the case of father and son pair Robert and Raymond Franklin, the suit alleges that the seized weapons were returned after three years and eight months despite only one of the 10 firearms having a connection with any crime.

The lawsuit alleges that the crime associated with that weapon was a malicious prosecution. Raymond Franklin was prosecuted as a “felon in possession of a firearm” after mail with his name on it was found next to his father’s legally owned pistol. Wyse also notes that Raymond Franklin lived in North Carolina at the time of the search of his father’s Columbia residence in December 2008, and that no warrant was presented to him nor left at his residence.

During the ensuing trial, Knight and Richard Hicks, then-assistant Boone County prosecutor, sought continuances despite Raymond Franklin’s motion for a speedy trial. The prosecutor’s office asked for the continuances so they could run tests proving that Raymond Franklin touched the gun after his felony conviction, and the continuances were granted over objection.

Wyse alleges that no test exists that can prove Franklin touched the gun in a certain time frame, that the prosecutors were aware of this, and that the real purpose of the continuance was to harm his chances of being paroled. Wyse notes that once the continuance was denied, the firearms charge was dismissed in April 2011. *Months later, Franklin was granted parole and released from prison. The guns were finally returned in August 2012.

Wyse said the defendants in the suit have until early March to file an answer to the lawsuit.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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