Cleveland police face lawsuit after bogus open carry arrest

A couple of weeks ago we reported on the arrest of a Cleveland, Ohio man named Antoine Tolbert, who was taken into custody and kept behind bars for 36 hours on a charge of improperly handling a firearm for walking down a city street while openly carrying a pistol and a shotgun. Tolbert wasn’t a stranger to at least one of first officers to respond, who recognized him from a recent visit he paid to the city’s police academy to talk about the work his organization New Era Cleveland is doing to help keep neighborhoods safe, and at first it seemed like there was no real issue with what Tolbert was doing.

Nevertheless, according to the new complaint filed in federal court, Tolbert ended up arrested after a sergeant in the Cleveland PD arrived on scene.

After a spate of gun violence in Cleveland on May 23, including the fatal shooting of a 14-year-old girl who was lying in her bed in Glenville and a quintuple shooting at a memorial service in Collinwood, Tolbert set out to conduct a community safety patrol.

He hoped to establish his organization’s presence in the community to deter future violence, the lawsuit said. Tolbert carried a 12-gauge shotgun and a handgun.

Officers arrived and questioned Tolbert about the guns. Tolbert said it was his right to do so. The officers said he was not under arrest and acknowledged the state’s law that allows people to carry guns openly. Since his arrest, the state enacted a law that allows people to carry concealed weapons.

Tolbert walked away before [Sgt. Lance] Henderson arrived. The sergeant told officers Tolbert couldn’t walk down the street with a gun.

Officers again drove up and surrounded Tolbert. Henderson got out of his cruiser with his gun drawn and pointed at Tolbert. He ordered Tolbert to put his guns on the ground, according to the lawsuit and body camera footage of the incident.

Tolbert asked why he was being detained and told Henderson he wasn’t breaking any laws.

Henderson, according to the lawsuit and the body camera video of the incident, said “You can’t walk down the street with a gun in your hand…I’m not going to allow you to do it.”

Henderson ordered the officers to arrest Tolbert on charges of carrying a concealed weapon. The officers initially laughed, and Henderson later said to arrest Tolbert on a charge of improperly handling a firearm. That charge only applies to the requirements of transporting a gun in a car.

Tolbert spent a day and a half in jail after he was arrested before he was released without any formal charges being filed. Instead, prosecutors took the case to a grand jury, which refused to indict Tolbert on a charge of illegally carrying a concealed firearm.

We can debate the efficacy of Tolbert’s open carry activism, but there’s no question about its legality. Antoine Tolbert broke no laws on May 23rd and should never have been arrested. It is, as several officers demonstrated, literally laughable that Tolbert was accused of carrying a concealed firearm without a license when both his handgun and his shotgun were in plain view at all times.

You can watch bodycam video of Tolbert’s arrest below. We’ll see what happens with the lawsuit, but based on everything I’ve seen and read, an injustice was done to Antoine Tolbert that day, and I hope that he can find some relief in the courts. As for his (and others) armed activism going forward, with Ohio’s Constitutional Carry law in place hopefully incidents like this are now a thing of the past.