As the two men approached a police station in Dearborn, Mich., on Sunday, one of them looked into the camera he was holding and explained — via Facebook Live — what their intentions were.
They claimed to have been illegally pulled over about an hour earlier and wanted to file a complaint, said James Baker, wearing a dark balaclava over his face.
Next to him, his friend Brandon Vreeland — toting a camera on a tripod — agreed “100 percent.”
Baker turned the camera back toward himself to more clearly reveal a rifle slung across his chest, body armor and a GoPro camera attached to his left shoulder.
“We felt a little afraid for our lives when we were pulled over,” Baker said, “so we figure we better protect ourselves.”
The pair — who describe themselves as open-carry advocates and frequently post videos of their interactions with police — entered the station and walked through another set of doors. Within seconds, a cacophony of shouts echoed throughout the lobby.
“Dude, put that on the ground!” someone can be heard yelling. “Put it on the ground!”
The camera captured two officers at the end of a hallway, appearing to point their weapons at Baker and Vreeland. Soon after, the video cut off, but the phone continued to record the chaotic scene unfolding.
“Put it on the ground or you are dead!” an officer bellows. “I will shoot you! I will put a round in you, sir! Put that rifle on the ground!”
“What the hell’s the matter with you?” another officer demands.
Amid the upheaval, Baker’s voice protested: “It’s all legal, sir.”
Shortly after the incident, both Baker, 24, and Vreeland, 40, were arrested at the station on Sunday, police said.
Officers seized a loaded AP-14 firearm, a rifle magazine containing 47 rounds, a loaded Glock 19 handgun with four additional magazines containing 66 rounds, body armor and ballistic vests, the ski mask, a gun belt, several pieces of camera equipment, an AR-15 rifle and an AK-47 style rifle, according to the Dearborn Police Department.
“I find this behavior totally unacceptable and irresponsible,” Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad said in a statement. “This is not a Second 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.”
Haddad added that the president of Michigan Open Carry, a group that advocates for lawful open carry of a holstered handgun in the state, had also called him in support of the police. Later that day, the group issued a statement to say it “in no way supports” the conduct by Baker and Vreeland.
“It is our belief that their actions were reckless and primarily designed to draw attention and a response,” the advocacy group said. “There is a clear difference between the everyday protection we advocate for and the attention-seeking actions of these individuals. Wearing a mask, dark glasses, visible body armor, and a rifle slung across your chest instills a very specific image that cannot be ignored.”
There is no law in Michigan that states it is legal to openly carry a firearm; there is also no law that prohibits it. However, state law does limit the premises on which a person may carry a firearm. A memo from the Michigan state police notes that it is legal for a person to carry a firearm in public “as long as the person is carrying the firearm with lawful intent and the firearm is not concealed.”
“Like it or not, exercising your rights is not black and white,” Michigan Open Carry President Tom Lambert said in a statement. “How you act and portray yourself is a big part of advocacy. I believe these gentlemen failed in this regard.”
Both men are free on $1,500 bonds, police said.
Neither Baker nor Vreeland responded immediately to requests for comment Tuesday morning.
Dearborn police had stopped the pair earlier Sunday at a shopping center “to investigate a report of two suspicious men in a vehicle wearing tactical vests and masks.”
“A short time later a Dearborn police sergeant on a patrol observed the subjects’ occupied vehicle in a park approximately three miles away,” police said in a statement. “The sergeant conducted a traffic stop to investigate further.”
Baker told MLive.com Monday that police had “invited” him to file a complaint at the station when they were stopped earlier.
“There were about 10 seconds when I thought I was going to die,” Baker told the news site, of the encounter at the police station.
On his Facebook page, Baker said he is “currently facing three misdemeanor charges [and] had $4k in property stolen.” The Detroit Free Press reported his charges as breaching the peace, failure to cooperate with police and masking his identity by obscuring his face in the station.
“I refuse to ask for money, but it is certainly needed,” Baker wrote, before adding he would accept donations in bitcoins or other cryptocurrency.
“But the fight goes on in any event. We’ve been doing this for a few years now, but I know my 24-year-old a– is only just getting f—ing started,” Baker wrote on Facebook. “The fight for true liberty is eternal, because perfect freedom and harmony is an asymptote, and you all and I have a lot of work to do.”
Vreeland’s charges were breaching the peace, obstructing police and failure to cooperate, according to the Detroit Free Press. He told the newspaper Monday that they regularly “audit” police and upload videos of such interactions.
“We audit police to see how well they honor the Constitution and people’s rights,” Vreeland told the newspaper. “We showcase police abuse and abuse of police power in the totalitarian police state that we live in.”