David Harrison’s picket flummoxed the AAPD—but the state is on his side.

David Harrison deliberately chose noon on the Fourth of July to test the bottle return law at 7-Eleven on State Street—not so much because he was feeling a surge of civic empowerment, but because he knew that while the parade was passing by, there would be a lot of cops out. “I knew I was right,” he says. “I had a copy of the law in my backpack.” If a dispute arose, he reasoned, law enforcement would be within easy reach.

According to Harrison, State Street convenience stores have adopted policies that discourage bottle returns. 7-Eleven’s policy is to require a purchase. Neither CVS nor 7-Eleven would comment, but the underlying issue is that the stores discourage bottle returns to keep out vagrants and panhandlers that vex all the merchants in the area.

Harrison, fifty-eight, is neither a vagrant nor a panhandler. He grew up in Ann Arbor, lives near State Street, and is an air force veteran—which is “kind of funny,” he says, since “I hate guns and I hate planes.”

Harrison says that when he presented the 7-Eleven clerk with twelve empties, she refused to redeem them unless he bought something. At that point, Harrison pulled out his copy of the 1976 Michigan Beverage Container Deposit Law. Eventually, he says, the clerk did offer him $1.20 for his twelve cans—but he wanted more: an assurance that the store policy had been changed.

As Harrison expected, two nearby cops were called in. To his chagrin, though, they weren’t interested in the bottle law—just in the clerk’s insistence that he leave the store. Warned he’d be trespassing if he stayed, Harrison left, and the officers went back to parade duty.

In the next twenty-four hours, Harrison pursued justice on three fronts. He visited the police station to protest being thrown out before his complaint was heard. Told that the officers had acted appropriately, he then called the Michigan Department of Treasury, which administers bottle returns. “I talked to Alberto Martin. He was very interested; he said it was illegal [to require a purchase] and wanted to know where this was happening.”

And he made a few signs. “I never protested anything in my life,” says Harrison, but he began picketing 7-Eleven. “I kept my eyes straight ahead. It wasn’t about me; it was about the law. But the store manager called me ‘a bum just looking for attention.'” Within hours another three cops visited 7-Eleven. Harrison says that all of them agreed that he was within his rights to picket as long as he “stayed out of the vestibule and didn’t interfere with customers.” But with an irate store owner on their hands, Harrison says, the officers did suggest he go next door and picket in front of Noodles & Company.

“I don’t have a problem with Noodles & Company! So why should I picket them?” Harrison asked indignantly. At the end of the day, he was given a citation for trespassing—though the form isn’t completely filled out and there is no fine attached to it.

AAPD lieutenant Ed Dreslinski explains bottle returns are covered by “administrative law, not criminal law. It’s not something the police would be involved in. It’s up to the [Michigan] treasury department to impose sanctions.” As for 7-Eleven, Dreslinski explains that Harrison is barred because he’s made a nuisance of himself, and trespassing is something the police get involved in.

Did the officers on the scene suggest Harrison picket Noodles & Co.? ­Dreslinski laughs: “They might have tried to keep him moving.”

7-Eleven owner Linda Russ won’t say any more than “we’ve taken it up with the police and resolved it.” But she may still have a problem with the state. Treasury department communications director Terry Stanton says Harrison has administrative law, at least, on his side.

“The individual redeeming bottles is entitled to a cash refund,” Stanton confirms. “There is no requirement in the statute that the individual make a purchase.”