Update: Louisiana couple (still) seeks return of dead son’s shotgun, religious items

Louisiana couple is determined to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in order to regain possession of their Holy Bible and Rosary Beads illegally seized by parish deputies.

“St. Tammany sheriff’s deputies stole private property from our home and never returned it to us,” said Norman Manton, a former St. Tammany sheriff’s deputy.

It all began Jan. 25, 2008 when Manton was taken into police custody with an arrest warrant that targeted him for alleged bank fraud, he said.

One day earlier, sheriff’s deputies executed a search warrant of his home and illegally seized an 870 youth model 20-gauge shotgun belonging to his late son David J. Manton with his initials “DJM” carved in the stock, and a large collection of religious materials, he said.

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The religious items included a Holy Bible, a Missal, a book Catholics use to follow along with Mass and other religious ceremonies, two St. Francis medals blessed by Pope John Paul II, two medals commemorating “Our Lady of Medjurgorje” and private journals his wife used while attending religious retreats, he said.

After spending four months in a jail cell, sometimes in solitary confinement, the state dropped the charges and released him, he said.  “They said they made a mistake.”

Manton asked: “I wasted four months in jail, for what purpose?”

Repeated attempts to retrieve personal property from the sheriff’s office have been left unresolved, he said.  “These problems have caused us so much misery, but we will continue on.”

Manton’s wife Sherrie Buras-Manton and the Independent Firearms Association commenced a federal civil rights lawsuit against St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Rodney “Jack” Strain, and others in April 2011, he said.

The complaint alleges violations of Buras-Manton’s right to keep and bear arms, her right to due process and equal protection, and her right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures in violation of the United States and Louisiana constitutions.

The court granted defendants’ summary judgment motion in December 2012 and dismissed the Manton’s suit–then, Aug. 2, the magistrate determined that plaintiffs owned the defendants attorney’s fees, Manton said.

“It does not seem fair that a ruthless police department steals my private property, arrests me, puts me in a cage, holds me there for four months, and the judge wants us to pay them money?” he asked.

Daniel G. Abel, the attorney for Buras-Manton in the civil rights action against Strain, asked, “Under what grounds or circumstances does a judge have the authority to permit law enforcement to keep unlawful possession of a citizen’s firearm and bible?”

The answer is judges have no such authority, he said.  “First and Second Amendment rights are absolute and resolution through-the-courts are the peaceful alternative to what citizens might envision as necessary to enforce or protect a citizen’s right to worship and bear arms.”

To date, none of the Manton property has been returned, said the civil rights lawyer from Jefferson Parish.  “Neither the Holy Bible, the other religious items, nor the shotgun have been returned although this illegal seizure took place over four years ago.”

Plaintiffs are again asking the court to enforce its standing order against Strain, he said.  “In its decision dated Jan. 3, 2006 the court specifically ordered that Strain, his deputies and all of his officers, agents, servants and employees are hereby enjoined and ordered to cease and desist confiscating lawfully-possessed firearms from all citizens.”

Buras-Manton said she will continue to pursue through appeal all actions necessary until her religious items and her late son’s firearm are surrendered to her by the sheriff, Abel said.  “The U.S. Supreme Court will certainly have an opportunity to decide whether Strain should keep the bible and firearm that belongs to Buras-Manton.”

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