Having worked hard to appear suspicious in an armed-and-loaded visit to the park, Embody cannot cry foul after park rangers, to say nothing of passers-by, took the bait.
– Sixth Circuit Judge Jeffery Sutton, in Embody v. Ward.
Leonard Embody went for a leisurely Sunday afternoon stroll in a nature area. He was outfitted with a camouflage suit and a Draco AK-47 pistol slung across his chest, all loaded up with a 30-round clip, all perfectly legal under Tennessee law, which allows handguns in public places such as nature areas.
He had a permit for the pistol. The pistol was barely legal: if the barrel had been a half-inch longer, it wouldn’t have qualified as a handgun. One other thing, the tip of the barrel was painted orange, typically done to indicate a weapon is actually a toy.
Embody had an audio recording device with him, apparently expecting that he’d draw some attention.
Mission accomplished. One person saw Embody and put his hands in the air without any prompting. Two others found a park ranger and expressed concern about Embody. An elderly couple told a ranger that they saw a man walking around with an assault rifle.
A ranger stopped Embody. Embody produced his permit. The ranger was unable to tell if the weapon was legal. The police were consulted. A ranger ordered Embody to the ground at gunpoint and disarmed him. After a couple hours, having determined that Embody’s weapon was legal, the authorities gave it back to him and sent him on his way.
Embody celebrated his release by suing the ranger that took him down at gunpoint. The weapon was legal, Embody said. That’s all that matters to make a case under the Fourth and Second Amendments.
The federal district court made short work of the case by granting the ranger summary judgment. Embody fared no better on appeal.
“[T]he constitutional question is whether the officers had reasonable suspicion of a crime, not whether a crime occurred. Otherwise, all failed investigatory stops would lead to successful § 1983 actions,” said Sutton, disposing of Embody’s Fourth Amendment claim.
As for the claimed Second Amendment violation, § 1983 provides remedies for federal law violations. Even if the ranger violated state law, Embody didn’t explain how that would rise to a federal constitutional offense, Sutton said.
Applying the legal principles in this case was like … well, it was like a walk in a park.