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Hutaree Militia Suit for Civil Damages is Tossed Out

A federal appeals court this week upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a civil damages lawsuit brought against the FBI by three members of a southern Michigan militia group arrested on criminal charges in 2010.

The courts held that three members of the Hutaree Militia, also known as the Hutaree Christian Warriors, had failed to timely file administrative claims for damages and that there was insufficient legal jurisdiction for the civil suit.

Nine members of the Hutaree Militia were indicted on federal charges in March 2010 in a high-profile case that drew worldwide attention. The militia group, which formed in 2006 and conducted live-fire military exercise in southern Michigan and northwestern Indiana, was accused of planning a revolution against the U.S. government and plotting to kill law enforcement officers.

A grand jury indicted the nine on charges of seditious conspiracy, attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, teaching the use of explosive materials and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence.

But after federal prosecutors presented their case to a jury in March 2012, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts dismissed all charges against seven of the defendants, declaring the government’s case was “built largely of circumstantial evidence.” Federal firearms charges against two of the defendants weren’t dismissed.

The case centered on whether the heavily armed Christian militia group was really embarking on an armed confrontation with the federal government or merely living in a fantasy world of “recreation” and protected free speech.

In dismissing the criminal charges before the case went to a jury, the judge said while it appeared that “something fishy was going on,” the government had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants “reached a concrete agreement to forcibly oppose the United States Government.”

Only two members of the group, David Brian Stone, also known as “Captain Hutaree,” and one of his sons, Joshua Matthew Stone, were both found guilty of possession of a machine gun. They both were sentenced in August 2012 to 24 months in prison, with credit for time they had served after their arrests in 2010.

Meanwhile, in 2013, Hutaree members Mike Meeks, Thomas Piatek and David Stone Jr. filed a civil damages suit in the Eastern District of Michigan, claiming FBI agents violated their constitutional rights during the investigation.

The plaintiffs claimed the FBI search warrants used to seize a large cache of weapons were defective and lacked probable cause, which violated each plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights. They also argued the seizure of their firearms constituted a Second Amendment violation, that seizure of their Bibles was a First Amendment violation, and the initiation of criminal proceedings violated their Fifth Amendment rights.

But in February 2014, U.S. District Judge Gershwin A. Drain of Detroit tossed out the civil suit, ruling that the three militia members had failed to come forward with “substantial evidence,” such as proof of perjured grand jury testimony, to rebut the presumption of probable cause established by the indictment.

The judge overseeing the civil case also ruled the plaintiffs’ contention that the search warrant used in their arrests was defective and they were targets of “malicious prosecution” were ruled on in the criminal case and, therefore, couldn't be re-litigated.

Those rulings were essentially upheld this week when the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the appeal from the three men.



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