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Rifle-Toting Teen Found Not Guilty; Jury Says: 'We Upheld the Law'

A seven-member jury found Troy's Sean Combs not guilty of disturbing the peace and brandishing a firearm after the 18-year-old was discovered carrying a firearm in downtown Birmingham in April.

Sean Combs, the Troy 18-year-old , was found not guilty Thursday afternoon of brandishing a firearm and disturbing the peace.

After nearly five hours of deliberation on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning at the 48th District Court, many on the seven-member jury were confident in their final decision.

"We upheld the law," said Rev. Julius DelPino, a jury member from Rochester Hills. "Based on how the law is written, (Combs) was not breaking the law."

Combs was arrested on April 13 after he was stopped by two Birmingham Police officers while he had his loaded M1 Garand rifle slung over his shoulder. When officers asked for identification, Combs refused.

As an adult, Combs was legally able to carry the rifle — a birthday present from an older brother — and under Michigan law, he wasn't required to show police ID. However, that Combs appeared very young and upon refusing show ID, Combs caused enough of a disturbance to attract a crowd.

A third charge of obstructing an officer was dismissed Wednesday by Judge Marc Barron due to lack of evidence.

'I'm not a rebel,' Combs says

However, jury members agreed with Combs and the arguments presented by his attorney, Jim Makowski, a Dearborn-based attorney who specializes in Second Amendment issues.

"(The jury) came out with the right verdict," said Combs outside the courtroom Thursday, after being hugged by his mother, girlfriend and an older brother. Combs' father, a retired police officer, was not present.

Combs said carrying the rifle that night in Birmingham was a form of self-expression.

"I broke a social rule," Combs said. "There's a reason to have those rules, but I don't think every social rule should be followed to a tee."

Outside of that April incident, Combs said he's not the rebel many believe him to be. Combs, who graduated from Troy High School this spring where he was captain of the track team, is looking to study engineering at Oakland Community College in the fall.

"I get that punk rebel kid thing a lot," Combs said. "(But) I was never a rebel in school. I was not afraid to show my opinion, but I'm not a rebel."

Combs' mother, Pam Nitnyk, said she was nervous going into Wednesday's trial but is relieved everything turned out the way it did.

"I was nervous but fairly confident," Nitnyk said. "I was depending on seven people who didn't know my son."

"I just think everyone needs to be know the laws," she added.

Case attracts attention of open carry advocates

Makowski said Thursday's verdict reaffirmed Michigan's open carry laws and most importantly, distinguished open carry from "brandishing."

"Open carry is not brandishing and brandishing is not open carry, there is a distinction," Makowski said, adding, "If I feel the need to openly carry a long gun, the courts have affirmed that I can do that."

Since Combs' arrest, the case has caused an uproar in the open carry community, which has rallied around Combs to show its support.

Open carry advocates, many of whom learned about Combs' case on opencarry.org, have gathered as a group in Birmingham's twice now — and — while openly carrying rifles and pistols in support of Combs.

“The verdict was congruent with the laws as they are written," said Ken Herman, a Clio resident and participant in the June open carry protest in Shain Park. “It is just another relief that our justice system has come through and his peers were able to remain objective in finding a verdict.”

However, while the written by Makowski and the prosecuting attorney, Mary Kucharek of Beier Howlett, P.C., the jury actually spent the most time debating the disturbing the peace charge.

After spending two hours in deliberation on Wednesday, the jury returned at 5 p.m. noting they had reached a verdict on the brandishing charge but not the disturbing the peace charge. The jury spent nearly three additional hours debating that charge Thursday morning.

Combs says civil suit still on the table

The big question after the trial, however: will Combs do it again?

Combs said that Friday night in April was the only night he intended to openly carry his rifle, anyway.

"I probably won't be doing something like this in the near future," Combs said Thursday. "I just want to get away from the stress and the drama and be a normal person again."

Despite finding Combs not guilty, however, several jurors noted they don't necessarily agree with Combs' actions that April night and think there's room in Michigan law for tighter regulation of firearms.

"As a people, we preserve our freedom by restraining our government. But we preserve civilization by restraining ourselves," said Bloomfield Township real estate lawyer and juror Ed Kickham. "There's some gaps in our law (regarding identifying yourself to police officers)."

Still, Kickham noted even if he disagrees with Combs' actions, no law was broken and that was what the jury had to decide in this case.

"I think the police officers behaved in a perfectly reasonable manner," he said. "But I don't think it rose to a breach of the peace."

Combs said while he's been cleared of criminal charges, there are no plans for a civil suit at this time but the idea is still on the table.

cookiepro2 July 17, 2012 at 05:21 PM
True Patriot & Danny, Thanks for the info on long guns vs handguns. It sounds like some politics are involved there.
True Patriot July 18, 2012 at 12:18 AM
Cookie, I'm not sure if you got the intent of the Dr. Sweets case. Yes, he was eventually acquitted, but the outrage after his acquittal is what created handgun registration. Registration intended to keep law abiding black people from owning guns. That is the result, and although you believe that registration is still a good thing, I don't think you yet grasp the concept that registration will not keep guns out of the hands of people who have committed crimes, have a PPO against them, or are mentally ill. That is the flaw in the reasoning behind registration. It has absolutely no affect on criminals. The gang bangers who do drive by shootings have nothing to lose and everything to gain by legislative restrictions on firearms. While I don't pretend to have a foolproof way to stem the violence that they create, I do know one thing for sure. Restricting the ability for law abiding citizens to protect themselves is not the answer. You seem to have an open mind on this topic, so I will ask you to please remember this one simple thing when discussing this with others. Who is it that will obey the laws?
cookiepro2 July 18, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Good point, True Patioit. More restrictive gun laws do not seem that they will help with the gun violence, it continues unabated even with the laws that are in place. I would like a confiscation of the illegally held guns that are in possession of the "gangbusters", of couse that's not possible without breaking a host of protected rights. Also pardon my ignorance, but isn't gun registration useful in solving some crimes? You know the ones where ballistics tests are done, the suspected murder weapon is confirmed to be the one, and ownership traced through the serial number on the gun?
Danny Griffin July 18, 2012 at 07:43 AM
> The Birmingham Historical Museum could do an exhibit about the history of racism in Birmingham. Are you racist?
Danny Griffin July 18, 2012 at 08:05 AM
@Greg Thrasher > Thanks for confirming for me you lack the depth and scope to understand the reality behind verdicts like this LOL! I have explained my arguments in detail using the law, the actions of the police, and the actions of the prosecutor. You have done nothing during the course of this entire dialogue except to continually resort to an over-misuse of adjectives and adverbs you pull out of some grab-bag you must think bolsters your non-existent gravitas. Nothing could be further from the truth. You have been exposed for the shallow thinker you are. You need to be able to reason and read the law. And actually using words correctly and using correct grammar would help. If you think that black people would be judged differently, then that is another discussion altogether. Please provide any cites or documentation to support your assertions. This jury followed the law. It seems you are angry because you think that if this had been a black man the jury would not have followed the law.

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