Man charged while open carrying files federal lawsuit

A Minnesota gun owner is suing the city of St. Cloud and three police officials after he was arrested while walking in public with his rifle.

It was Nov. 17, 2014, when Sauk Rapids and St. Cloud police officers stopped Tyler Gottwalt, a firearm permit holder, as he walked across a bridge from one town into the next with an AK-style rifle slung over his shoulder. While the Sauk Rapids officers stood by, those from St. Cloud consulted the city attorney and found that Gottwalt was not violating state law, but could have run afoul of a local city ordinance on carrying weapons other than handguns in public and charged him as such.

A public records search shows Gottwalt has no criminal history barring a series of traffic citations, and before his court date on the weapons charge came up, Judge Vicki E. Landwehr moved to dismiss the case. City officials then attempted to have Gottwalt hit with a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge, which Landwehr likewise turned down, canceling the planned trial before jury selection was to begin.

This led Gottwalt to file a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Minnesota last month in the case of Gottwalt v. Oxton et al, naming the city of St. Cloud, Assistant Chief of Police Jeffery Oxton in his official capacity and two other officers as defendants.

According to court documents, the case goes after St. Cloud’s local gun restriction, in particular in how it was applied to the open carry case, as a violation of the state’s law on rifles and shotguns in public places which allows those with a permit to carry one openly. They further argue the city’s regulation is vague, overbroad and fundamentally unconstitutional in light of Minnesota’s preemption laws. This in turn led the defendants to overstep their powers, violating Gottwalt’s civil rights in the process.

“It is clear that people with a permit can carry rifles in public,” Kenneth U. Udoibok, Gottwalt’s attorney, told Guns.com. “These laws have been around for a while. Some are saying that the laws apply to pistols alone. Not so. Why would the Minnesota legislature allow people to carry a semi-automatic pistol in public but not a long gun?”

Udoibok contends St. Cloud took the 2014 incident against his client too far, noting the judge dismissed the case before it even came to trial.

“St. Cloud police officers involved knew the laws but failed to follow them,” he said. “Sauk Rapids officers complied with the law but St. Cloud officers refused. St. Cloud officers and the prosecutor engaged in abuse of process and authority.”

However, the city isn’t backing down.

“Our opinion hasn’t changed since we charged the case and pursued it,” said City Attorney Matt Staehling as reported by the St. Cloud Times. “We certainly stand by the arrest. We stand by our prosecution of this case. We’ve maintained all along that he did not possess a pistol. The weapon he was carrying, which was an AK-47, military-style assault rifle, does not fit the definition of pistol as it’s defined in the statute.”

Minnesota-based Second Amendment stalwarts contend the city is spinning its wheels.

“The city of St. Cloud is either deliberately ignoring or is criminally incompetent in recognizing the existing preemption statutes,” Andrew Rothman, president of Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance told Guns.com by phone Monday. “Their actions have wasted Minnesota citizens’ tax dollars and law enforcement’s time that could be put to better use in pursuing actual criminals.”

Gottwalt is seeking damages in excess of $75,000, attorney’s fees and costs, and any other amount deemed acceptable by the court. The case is currently assigned to Chief John R. Tunheim, a former Minnesota chief deputy attorney general who was appointed to the federal bench by President Clinton in 1995.