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Missouri gun owner wins apology from police in dispute over video

By Carey Gillam

(Reuters) - A Missouri man who ran into trouble with police when shooting his gun on his family's property and then was ordered to take a video of the incident off the Internet has won an apology from the local police chief and settled his lawsuit against the officer, the gun owner's attorneys said on Wednesday.

In the May 2013 incident in the southeast Missouri village of Kelso, the police chief, Jerry Bledsoe, arrived at the home of gun owner Jordan Klaffer's mother in response to a noise complaint lodged when Klaffer was target shooting.

Klaffer's video of the incident shows Bledsoe insisting that Klaffer surrender his guns or be arrested. Klaffer refused to turn over his guns and was arrested for disturbing the peace. The video shows Klaffer repeatedly asking Bledsoe to explain how he had broken the law.

The video was posted on various social media sites until Bledsoe secured a court order that forced Klaffer to remove it and any text about Bledsoe from the Internet.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit against Bledsoe in February on Klaffer's behalf, said Kelso police had agreed they would not seek to censor criticism of police actions and that Bledsoe had written a personal apology for doing so.

The ACLU said Bledsoe agreed to pay unspecified damages, court costs and attorney's fees to settle the case, which drew attention from advocates for gun rights and free speech.

In the lawsuit, Klaffer argued that Bledsoe harassed him for exercising his gun rights under the U.S. Constitution, and said his posting of the video of the officer's actions was protected free speech under the Constitution's First Amendment.

"This is an important win for First Amendment freedoms," Jeffrey Mittman, director of the ACLU of Missouri, said in a statement. "It is a reminder for all police departments that citizens have a right to record public interactions with police officers and share those recordings freely."

Bledsoe declined to comment. His attorney, Keith Henson, said that although Bledsoe apologized, there was no admission of liability or wrongdoing.

"Captain Bledsoe never intended to violate Mr. Klaffer’s constitutional rights, but simply was trying to protect his rights," Henson said.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Mo.; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)

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