A lawyer says Dearborn police, using Facebook profile name "Olivia," secretly monitored a network of Second Amendment activists and ambushed two men who filmed themselves walking into police headquarters last month.
Nicholas Somberg, who represents 40-year-old Brandon Vreeland of Jackson, said the Feb. 5 incident was a "political witch hunt" as his client and James Baker, 24, of Leonard, Mich., were arrested. In a YouTube video, Baker can be seen in a black ski mask with a short-barreled rifle slung over his chest and a semi-automatic pistol strapped to his hip; Vreeland had on body armor but left his gun in the car, instead bringing along cameras to videotape the encounter that was about to take place.
"After the discovery, it is very clear that Dearborn (police) knew that they were coming, knew who they were, and planned the ambush," Somberg said. "It's not that they were reacting to a situation they thought was going to be violent. They actually knew it was not violent, knew who they were, and just wanted to teach these guys a lesson."
Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad didn't immediately respond Friday to a Free Press request for comment.
Warning: Video contains profanity
In the February video, police officers with guns drawn were waiting, and a tense standoff occurred as the two men initially refused to comply with orders to drop to the ground as they argued they had a right to carry weapons.
"Put it on the ground or you are dead," one of the officers screams in the video that was live-streamed on the Internet via cell phones by Baker and Vreeland as the confrontation unfolded. "I will shoot you. I will put a round in you. What the hell is the matter with you?"
Somberg said the two men did nothing illegal. On Thursday, he posted a photo of a page from the criminal case's discovery on Facebook with the words, "If you ever wondered if the police monitor what you post on Facebook, the answer is YES. Dearborn PD goes by the name 'Olivia'."
He told the Free Press that the documents show that police, logged on as Facebook user "Olivia," lurked on publicly posted conversations. He said it didn't appear that the user had interacted with his client.
"My clients have other activist friends," Somberg said, adding that the stack of screen-shot printouts is about an inch thick. "They have a whole network, so they're just screen-shotting everybody."
Thomas Holt, criminal justice professor at Michigan State University, said Friday that social media is "definitely becoming a more common tool for law enforcement" to monitor for public safety and to watch trending problems.
"If it's a public account, to some extent it's treated like a natural conversation you could observe at a bus stop — you're talking very loudly in a public place," Holt said.
Dearborn Police Department and a statewide open carry group previously condemned Vreeland and Baker's Feb. 5 action as irresponsible and reckless.
“I find this behavior totally unacceptable and irresponsible," Haddad said in a Feb. 6 statement. "This is not a 2nd Amendment issue for me. We had members of the public in our lobby that fled in fear for their safety as these men entered our building."
Tom Lambert, president of Michigan Open Carry Inc., a gun-rights group, issued a statement supporting the police handling of the incident.
"Let us be clear, Michigan Open Carry Inc. in no way supports the actions of these individuals," Lambert said. "It is our belief that their actions were reckless and primarily designed to draw attention and a response."
Baker was charged with two counts of carrying a concealed weapon and one count of brandishing firearms in public. Vreeland was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, assaulting/resisting/obstructing a police officer and disturbing the peace. He previously told the Free Press that both men are legal gun owners and Michigan law allows them to carry their weapons openly.
"We audit police to see how well they honor the Constitution and people's rights," Vreeland said Feb. 5, after posting $1,500 bond. "We showcase police abuse and abuse of police power in the totalitarian police state that we live in."
Vreeland said he and Baker went to the police station to complain about Dearborn officers stopping them earlier in the day.
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Contact Robert Allen on Twitter @rallenMI or firstname.lastname@example.org. Free Press staff writer John Wisely contributed to this report.