BELLAIRE — Convicted felon.
Bellaire resident Kent McNeil carries that brand, a label he earned after pleading guilty to kidnapping and extortion in 1988. Now he wants to legally possess firearms, though federal law prohibits felons from possessing guns.
Antrim County authorities refused McNeil’s request to reinstate his gun ownership rights, so last week he filed a case with the Michigan Supreme Court after an appellate court upheld the Antrim County gun board’s stance against him. McNeil said denial of his gun rights based solely on his criminal history is akin to double jeopardy.
He said he presented evidence on his education and employment since his release from prison, but the gun board failed to consider that because of personal bias against him.
”You can’t prosecute on the same offense,” he said. “It may be considered but cannot be the only thing they use for denial.”
Gun board members decided McNeil failed to present clear and convincing evidence he was “not likely to act in a manner dangerous to the safety of others.”
McNeil is a frequent critic of Antrim government officials, and argues gun boards are unconstitutional because they’re “stacked” with law enforcement officials who are unwilling or unable to step outside their roles as police officers or prosecutors. He said his felony conviction is wrongly being used against him.
Antrim County Prosecutor Charles Koop said the gun board typically restores gun rights to individuals who were involved in nonviolent cases. McNeil doesn’t fall into that category, Koop said.
Court documents state that in 1985 McNeil’s employer paid him $2,000 to “convince” a debtor to repay a loan. The victim was bound and gagged, transported to rural area and beaten by McNeil and two accomplices, one of whom used the butt of a shotgun. He pleaded guilty to kidnapping and extortion in 1988.
One gun board member said allowing McNeil to legally possess guns “would be a violation of not only federal law but the public trust that we have to serve,” court documents state.
Since his parole from prison in 1999, McNeil earned a Master’s degree in criminal justice and is working on juris doctorate in constitutional law. He spearheaded a recall effort against Koop in 2007 and filed a complaint arguing the board of commissioners is illegal under the state constitution.
Koop dismisses the claims of personal bias.
“I represent the county both criminally and civilly and people put motives on these things all the time,” he said. “It goes with the territory. I certainly don’t think about Mr. McNeil unless he initiates contact.”
A state appellate panel affirmed 13th Circuit Court Judge Phillip Rodgers’ ruling that McNeil’s record and reputation were fair game when considering his petition.
”The board considered that McNeil illegally handled a gun in 2006, and shot himself in the face in the process,” the document states. “The board also made note that McNeil had threatened several local officials with citizen’s arrest and investigated his right to use force during such an arrest.”
McNeil was never prosecuted for the purported 2006 gun incident, during which he lost an eye. He said the gun board failed to present one document on those incidents and his criminal record. It wasn’t until he appealed the decision in 13th Circuit Court that Koop produced more than 200 pages the gun board didn’t consider, he said.
”I don’t mind being denied the restoration of my rights, but give me a reason,” McNeil said.
Koop said Antrim County will retain outside counsel if the Michigan Supreme Court takes up the case.