Judge blocks cop’s request for qualified immunity after arrest of a permitted gun owner

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WATERBURY, CT – A federal judge reportedly rejected a Waterbury Police officer’s request for qualified immunity after the officer was named in a lawsuit regarding a November 2018 traffic stop that turned into a detention and vehicle search over a permitted pistol that was inside of the vehicle.

When it comes to qualified immunity for police officers, there’s a lot of misunderstandings of what it does and does not do. But the most basic understand of qualified immunity is that it only comes into play when there are allegations that a law enforcement officer somehow violated the Constitution in their duties.

In a sense, qualified immunity is meant to protect law enforcement officers from personal liability in the event there is a gray area on whether a Constitutional violation occurred while they were operating in the scope of their duties – protecting routine decision making associated with the job when said decisions are made in good faith.

What qualified immunity doesn’t protect are Constitutional violations supported by previous case law, or instances of such clear-cut violations that a specific case wouldn’t even need to be referenced.

And apparently, U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton found that the actions of Officer Nicholas Andrzejewski during a November 12th, 2018, traffic stop are not deserving of qualified immunity protections.

Thus, a lawsuit naming the officer is slated to move forward.

The November 2018 incident started after Basel Soukaneh pulled over his vehicle in Waterbury after the GPS on his iPhone froze.

While Soukaneh was trying to get his GPS running again, Officer Andrzejewski noticed the pulled over vehicle and initiated a traffic stop due to Soukaneh being parked in a “dark and high-crime area…well-known for prostitution, drug transactions, and other criminal activity,” according to Judge Atherton’s recounting of the incident report.

Officer Andrzejewski approached Soukaneh’s vehicle and knocked on the window, asking to see Soukaneh’s license. The driver reportedly complied and also informed the officer that he had a handgun inside of the vehicle while handing over his pistol permit.

Apparently, the stop went awry from there, as Officer Andrzejewski allegedly forced Soukaneh out of his vehicle, slammed him on the ground, and placed him in handcuffs – then placing him into the back of the squad car.

Officer Andrzejewski then reportedly searched Soukaneh’s, claiming to have found drugs on him. However, what the officer removed from Soukaneh’s pocket was his prescribed nitroglycerin pills for his heart condition. The officer also reportedly seized $320 in cash and a flash drive containing photos and videos of Soukaneh’s deceased father that was in Soukaneh’s pocket.

After the discovery of the cash, flash drive, and prescription medication, Officer Andrzejewski allegedly asked the driver the following:

“Where’s the prostitute? Where’s the drugs?”

While the driver was sitting inside of the squad car while handcuffed for roughly thirty minutes, Officer Andrzejewski proceeded to search Soukaneh’s vehicle. The officer then issued Soukaneh a ticket for a parking violation and released him from custody.

According to Soukaneh, Officer Andrzejewski never returned the $320 cash or the flash drive.

This then brought about the lawsuit filed by Soukaneh alleging a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, primarily claiming that he was unlawfully detained during the encounter.

Oral arguments regarding the lawsuit were held on August 6th, which despite Officer Andrzejewski’s attempts to justify the actions taken during the stop, did not prevent the lawsuit from moving forward against him.

Court documents shows that Officer Andrzejewski said that his actions during the stop were “justified because he had probable cause to believe Plaintiff was possessing a firearm without a permit as he had not yet been able to verify the validity of the permit.”

However, the judge’s ruling noted that just because a firearm permit hasn’t been verified yet while having been willfully presented, it doesn’t amount to probable cause to enact either an arrest or search of the vehicle:

“In light of the uncontested fact that Plaintiff presented his pistol permit to Defendant before or at the time he disclosed that he was in possession of a pistol and the absence of any other indicia that Plaintiff was otherwise violating the statute, no reasonable officer could believe probable cause was present.

Any contrary holding ‘would eviscerate Fourth Amendment protections for lawfully armed individuals’ by presuming a license expressly permitting possession of a firearm was invalid.”

Further along in the proceeding, court records shows that Officer Andrzejewski attempted to cite Michigan v. Long as a defense for his actions due to there being an alleged “objectively reasonable basis to suspect that Plaintiff was dangerous because of the known presence of his gun.”

Except, Judge Arterton pointed out that Michigan v. Long regarded a suspect that was observed by police in a vehicle “traveling erratically and at an excessive speed” who later ““swerved off into a shallow ditch” and the suspect in that case was non-compliant at many portions of the stop – a set of circumstances far different than why Officer Andrzejewski stopped Soukaneh:

“The case here is distinctively factually different from Long. The facts read in the light most favorable to Plaintiff demonstrate that he was friendly and compliant when Defendant approached the vehicle, rolling down his window, providing his license, and volunteering the presence of his firearm and permit.

Defendant did not articulate any facts suggesting, for instance, that Plaintiff was resistant or that he could be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Moreover, Defendant learned about Plaintiff’s firearm not by discovering it lying out in the open on the floor like the knife in Long, but by Plaintiff’s voluntary disclosure and his production of his permit authorizing him to possess that weapon.”

Which then brought Officer Andrzejewski to his final effort to shield him from the lawsuit – telling the judge that he was entitled to qualified immunity.

Based upon all the facts of the case, Judge Arterton found that no other “reasonable police officer” would’ve felt justified in the actions taken during the stop and declined to afford Officer Andrzejewski qualified immunity protections in the lawsuit:

“Because, on the record read in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, no reasonable police officer could have believed he or she had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff, the Court denies summary judgment on the lawfulness of the de facto arrest and declines to immunize the officer on this record.”

The judge’s conclusion was that while the initial traffic stop of Soukaneh was lawful, everything that occurred thereafter – the “de facto arrest”, search of Soukaneh’s passenger compartment, and search of his trunk – are factors that the officer will have to face in civil court.

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Convicted conman who served time for grand larceny successfully sues his victims for $12M and wins

(Originally published August 15th, 2021)

NEW YORK CITY, NY – In a bizarre case involving the civil courts, a convicted conman who served time in prison for grand larceny that was related to a mortgage scheme, reportedly sued the victims of his case after leaving prison – and the courts awarded the convicted conman $12.5 million in the civil case.

Back in 2007, then-41-year-old Jacob Milton was arrested in connection with a scheme involving identity theft that led to numerous lines of credit being opened in the victims’ names and raking in over $1 million from the scheme.

Milton, who was a Queens-based mortgage manager, had apparently used his branch manager position at Griffin Mortgage to steal the identities of his victims who were coming in as first-time home purchasers.

Milton would eventually be sentenced to serve two to six years in prison after pleading guilty to grand larceny, where he’d eventually be let out of prison after serving three years.

Flash forward to August of 2021, and some of the victims of Milton’s crimes that landed him in prison have learned that they were not only sued by Milton – but that a judgement was already ordered instructing the family to pay Milton $12.5 million.

The family who was sued, consisting of Mayra Macias, Juan C. Alvarez, Juan B. Alvarez, Lorena Alvarez, Martha Viteri and Hector Sandoval, was reasonably shocked to learn about the judgement against them that was reached on August 5th.

Kate Alvarez, a family member of one of the victims, said she can’t wrap her head around the idea of Milton being able to successfully sue his victims:

“How can victims of his fraud ‘repay’ him this amount when their financial lives are still hurt by this?”

The pursued lawsuit by Milton apparently began roughly a year after he had gotten out of prison, where he reportedly filed a $50 million lawsuit against his victims, claiming that they had wrongly accused him of the crimes that he served time in prison for.

This family that was the subject of the $50 million suit years earlier initially hired an attorney by the name of Noah Goldstein to help with the case.

However, as time went on, Goldstein later abandoned the case and the family never wound up hiring a new attorney or responding to other orders that came from the judge directing them to appear in court.

Goldstein, who later reconnected with the family after this relevant update, claims that the family was oblivious to any orders to appear in court:

“The family said they had no idea a trial was scheduled and held, and a judgment awarded until last week. The jury, seeing an empty defendant’s chair, probably [thought] they [were] supposed to believe Milton and give him what he wants.”

John DeMaio, an attorney representing the now-55-year-old Milton, told the courts back in 2017 that he made repeated attempts to mail various documents to the victims of Milton’s crimes. By 2018, DeMaio made another court filing alleging that he has “no reason to believe Defendants will ever appear” in court.

The civil case eventually went before a jury in Justice Doris Ling-Cohan’s courtroom back in March 2019, and the case went on from there until the Alvarez family received notice this August that they needed to pay up $12.5 million to the man who victimized them.

Kate Alvarez claims this is the first her family had heard about the case ever going to court, saying that “no letter was ever received stating any court date or document saying they had to show up or else. Instead, they receive this first letter stating he won his case and [they] have to pay $12 million.”

The victims do have some recourse they could pursue with an attempt to have the judgement wiped or file an appeal.

To this day, Milton still stands by him being an innocent man and that his victims slandered him and that the case was mishandled by prosecutors.

This is a developing story.

Please follow Law Enforcement Today as we continue to gather further insight into this developing case.

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