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Article updated: 6/9/2013 10:53 AM

Arlington Heights man, police in dispute over confiscating his guns

By Melissa Silverberg

Arthur Lovi sat down with a therapist one day last August to talk about some things that were bothering him. He had high blood pressure, and his physician suggested he talk to someone.

He already spoke to a VA psychiatrist once a month -- he has persistent memories from his days as an Air Force crash rescue helicopter pilot in the 1960s -- but he agreed. He'd been through a lot lately and figured it couldn't hurt to get some of it out.

"I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders," he said.

Lovi told her about the loss that had been all around him the past few years: his mother, a 3-year-old granddaughter who drowned, a son-in-law lost to a drug overdose, and worst of all, his wife of 33 years.

Cindy had died nine years ago, but to Lovi it was still raw. She was always tired and bruised easily. When he finally persuaded her to get checked out, she was told she had a cold, probably caught from one of her students at Forest View Alternative Center.

Unsatisfied, the next day Lovi made her see another doctor who gave her the correct, but heartbreaking, diagnosis: leukemia. Cindy died a few weeks later. She was 53.

Lovi told the therapist about Cindy's death and his bitterness over the incorrect diagnosis.

"I'll have hard feelings about it until the day I die," Lovi says now. "Not that a day would make a difference, but maybe it would have. I'll never know."

After the session, Lovi's therapist was concerned. She called the Arlington Heights police to report he had made a threat against the first doctor who saw his wife.

She told them she didn't think he would carry it out or that he was dangerous to himself or others, but she just wanted to do her job and report it.

A few hours later, Lovi, 72, got a call from the police. They asked if he had any weapons in his home.

Lovi, who is retired and whose son lives with him, told them yes, he had three antique firearms, including a musket that was more than 100 years old, but no ammunition.

Lovi's home is decorated with antiques: Old teakettles, ancient telephones, kerosene lamps. The guns, which sit on his fireplace -- unloaded, he says, because his grandchildren often visit -- are part of the collection. He says he's never fired any of the guns and wouldn't know how to even load the musket.

The police seemed satisfied after Lovi told them he had a valid FOID card.

According to an Arlington Heights police report, officers contacted the doctor who diagnosed the cold. The doctor told police he "did not feel like his safety was in immediate jeopardy."

But that night about 11 p.m. there was a knock at Lovi's door. His son answered and saw four or five police officers standing outside.

"Dad, you better come out here," he said.

This is where the story starts to diverge between Lovi's account of the hours and days to follow and what is recorded in Arlington Heights police reports, but the events set off what is now a federal-court case that pits one man's civil rights against the police's need to protect the public.

The village of Arlington Heights and the police department would not discuss why they took the guns and continued to hold them for several months because Lovi has a lawsuit against them pending, said assistant village attorney Robin Ward. The Daily Herald received police reports through Freedom of Information Act requests that help piece the police side of the story together.

Lovi and his lawsuit, filed by lawyers at Chicago-based Meyer & Kiss LLC, say the officers entered his home without his consent and seized his three guns and FOID card. When Lovi asked if they had a warrant, he was told "they could go get a warrant and if he insisted they do that, they would come back and tear the (expletive) out of his house," according to the suit.

The police report, dated Aug. 30, says, "Lovi was cooperative and voluntarily handed over the weapons."

Lovi was not arrested or charged with any crime.

Two days later, Lovi called the police about his guns, and an officer came to his house. He says the officer turned the conversation to his late wife, and Lovi got upset. The officer determined he needed a psychiatric examination, but again, the two reports of the situation differ.

Lovi's suit alleges police threatened that if he didn't go into the ambulance willingly, they would handcuff him and physically put him in the ambulance.

However, an Arlington Heights police report dated Sept. 1, 2012, states: "Lovi agreed to have the Arlington Heights Fire Department paramedics respond to his residence and be transported to Northwest Community Hospital to speak with doctors there. Arlington Heights Fire Department responded and transported Lovi on a voluntary admission basis."

However he got there, Lovi was released later that day after the evaluation determined he was not a danger to himself or others.

Lovi's attorney, Dan Kiss, said he thinks police wanted to prove Lovi was mentally unstable in an attempt to justify taking his guns the day before.

"That's an extreme abuse of power," Kiss said. "It's bad enough to come to someone's house and take their guns. It's another to get them effectively imprisoned under phony allegations of mental illness."

Armed with his release from Northwest Community Hospital, Lovi says he went back to the Arlington Heights police station three more times to try to retrieve his guns and FOID card. On one trip, he was told he had to get a note from the original therapist, whom he was no longer seeing. Later he was told his FOID card had been sent to Springfield, which he later discovered was not true.

Two months later, Lovi hired a lawyer, which he found through his membership in the NRA. Shortly thereafter the Arlington Heights police returned his FOID card and the weapons, one of which he said was damaged.

On Jan. 31, Lovi and Kiss filed suit against the department for financial damages, claiming the police had violated his Second and Fourth Amendment rights and caused him emotional distress.

Lovi is no stranger to legal battles. While on vacation in Florida in 1995, bike police issued Lovi a traffic ticket for $69.50, saying he was speeding and driving the wrong way in a parking lot. Rather than pay it, Lovi flew back to Florida and represented himself in court, arguing successfully the police did not use radar guns and that the parking lot did not have signage to show which way to drive. He traveled 2,000 miles and spent more than $1,000 to fight the ticket -- and he won.

"I don't start trouble, I don't look for trouble, but if somebody starts it with me, I'm going to stand up for myself," Lovi said. "That's just the way I've always been."

The case against the Arlington Heights Police Department has been in court for preliminary motions a few times since it was filed in January, and Kiss said there has been some talk of settlement but that the two sides are still very far apart.

Kiss didn't put a dollar amount on the lawsuit.

"We want a fair amount to compensate him for what he was put through," he said. "Not just the shock and embarrassment of police coming to his home without legal reason but also the direct attempt of police to try and have him civilly committed."

Law enforcement officials not connected to this case, say, however, that it isn't that simple.

Algonquin Police Chief Russ Laine, a firearms expert, said often these situations are more complicated than even the police reports tell.

He said that in high-stress situations, police often have to work with the best information available to them. In this case, police had a report from a mental health professional saying Lovi, who admitted to having weapons in his home, had made a threat against another person.

"The police are concerned about the safety of all people involved. It's a lot to take into consideration," Laine said. "We don't have all the facts, and it's extremely difficult for someone who wasn't there to pass judgment on the case."

Laine added there are times when a warrant is not necessary.

"There are many, many exceptions to the requirement that the police need a warrant, based on emergency circumstances and public safety exceptions," he said.

"Sometimes it's a judgment call for the officers who respond," said Ed Hoes, executive director of the Illinois Police Association. "If they thought he might have been a threat to somebody, then it's their job to go and do whatever is possible to prevent anyone from getting hurt."

Hoes said he can't make a call on whether the Arlington Heights police handled the situation appropriately, but that if it had ended violently, people would be asking questions about why the police didn't take Lovi's weapons.

What really happened, and whether it was handled correctly by police, is now up to the courts to decide. Lovi's lawyers are demanding a jury trial.

"I cannot put up with this. It scared the hell out of me," Lovi said. "I'm not a gun nut. I couldn't believe this was really happening."

Case: Arlington Heights man was not arrested or charged with a crime before or after guns seized

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