DETROIT (WXYZ) — John Lloyd had just dropped his mother off at work on a night in December 2020 when he noticed the flashing lights behind him.
Traveling through Detroit’s New Center on West Grand Boulevard, he was pulled over by police for a traffic infraction.
“I let them know that I was armed,” Lloyd said, who at the time was working as an armed security guard. “They checked out the information and told me my (concealed pistol license) was expired.”
Lloyd had moved back to Michigan from Georgia and his concealed pistol license, or CPL, had expired three months earlier. Like many, he said trying to renew his CPL through the Wayne County Clerk wasn’t easy after the pandemic shut the office down.
Lloyd was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed weapon, or CCW. In Michigan, it’s a five-year felony.
“It feels like we’re being targeted as a criminal,” Lloyd said, “and we’re not.”
Over the last two years, the number of people arrested for only carrying a concealed weapon in Detroit has soared. Before the pandemic, fewer than 400 arrests were being made per quarter.
But by the summer of 2020, arrests had quadrupled. As of November, 1,055 CCW cases are pending in the Wayne County Circuit Court.
“Yes, get your guns off the street,” said criminal defense attorney Gabi Silver. “But stop with this nonsense of the ends justifying the means.”
Since the pandemic, Silver—who often defends people charged with gun crimes—say she’s seen an explosion of CCW-only charges inside Wayne County Circuit Court.
Silver is troubled by the abrupt increase, she says, because the vast majority of those charged are people of color.
“Why are you going to take somebody who is a really trying to follow the law,” Silver said, “who is otherwise a law-abiding citizen and criminalize that behavior for a mistake?”
Criminal defense attorneys say cases like Lloyd’s are common: citizens, usually African Americans, with no criminal records carrying legally owned guns suddenly facing years in prison.
Michigan is an open-carry state, which means you can carry a legally owned and registered weapon so long as it’s in full view.
But the law is frequently misunderstood, with some gun owners thinking they can tuck their firearm into their waistband, or drive with it in the car.
James White was not Detroit’s police chief when John Lloyd was arrested, and says the sharp rise in CCW arrests is not in response to a directive to his officers.
“There is no mandate, there is no push to get more guns off the street,” White said. “But the push is to make our community safe.”
While cases like John Lloyd’s represent nonviolent offenses, White stressed that even law-abiding gun owners pose a risk when they improperly carry a weapon—even if it’s theirs.
In Oxford, James and Jennifer Crumbley legally purchased and owned their gun that their son allegedly used to kill four and injure seven.
“I’ve had sixty kids shot in the City of Detroit (in 2021), 8 under the age of 17…killed,” White said. “So we’ve got a lot of people carrying weapons and we’ve got a lot of people making poor, impulsive decisions carrying weapons.”
But it wasn’t that long ago that the city’s then-police chief actually encouraged Detroiters to carry firearms.
“Good Americans who are responsible with concealed weapons can make a difference,” Craig told CNN in a 2014 interview. “I don’t care what city you’re talking about in America, (the police) cannot be everywhere.”
According to Kristine Longstreet, a supervising attorney for Neighborhood Defender Services, some Detroiters who heeded the former chief’s advice are now facing a five-year felony.
“You’re arresting our brothers, uncles, sisters, aunts for carrying a gun in a city where they were told to be afraid, where they were told to arm yourselves,” Longstreet said.
A spokesman for Neighborhood Defender Services says that 70% of their organization’s clients are legal gun owners with no criminal history.
While the number of Black clients they represent has soared by more than 300% since the pandemic, non-Black clients has actually fallen.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said any racial disparity in charges concerns her—and said she was not aware of these numbers until we shared them with her.
“It’s clearly a problem, and I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that it’s not a problem,” she said during an interview in November.
Worthy said that under former Chief James Craig, the department was making arrests it shouldn’t have.
“Their mandate was: ‘Let’s go out and get as many CCW arrests as we can. In fact, let’s even ask all of Detroit to arm themselves,'” Worthy said, adding that she and former Chief Craig often butted heads over some gun arrests.
“We tried to try to advise against some of the arrests that were made, and I can say that as soon as James White came in…the very first thing that I talked about was the rise in these CCW arrests," Worthy said.
In an e-mailed statement, former Chief James Craig defended his record on CCW arrests:
"Any inference that I, or my office, directed officers to make illegal CCW arrests is a flat out lie. Whenever my team was made aware of an alleged illegal CCW arrest, it was my expectation that an internal investigation be immediately launched by the department's professional standard section. In fact, I went outside the department and brought in a former U.S. Attorney, to oversee our internal reviews. We worked with Prosecutor Worthy's office on arrest warrants to remove dangerous felons and their illegal guns from the streets in order to improve the safety of some of Detroit's most high-crime areas."
Worthy stresses that her office dismissed warrants on more than 1,500 CCW arrests and has referred more than 600 others to diversion programs, which allow those charged to avoid a criminal record.
She says her office no longer charges gun owners whose concealed pistol license has expired within the last year, but that doesn’t apply to those already charged like John Lloyd.
After losing his job as a security guard, today he details cars while a five-year felony hangs over his head.
“I’m praying that everything works in my favor and everybody else’s favor that’s going through this,” Lloyd said back in November. “But it’s not right.”
Following our interview with prosecutor Kym Worthy, Lloyd’s attorney told 7 Action News that her client was informed he was eligible for entering a diversion program.
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at email@example.com or at (248) 827-9466.