Officers injured in 2018 shooting file lawsuit against accused killer and suspect’s family

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FLORENCE, SC – Two officers that were injured in a 2018 shooting incident where five other officers were shot, two of them fatally, are suing the suspect and his family regarding the incident.

The shooting incident came after authorities say the murder suspect fired upon officers who were attempting to arrest the suspect’s son over a then-ongoing investigation into various sex offenses.

Florence Police Officer Brian Hart and Florence County Deputy Arie Davis have filed a lawsuit against Frederick Hopkins, Cheryl Hopkins, Seth Hopkins and David Suggs as Trustees of the Suggs Family Revocable Trust over the October 3rd, 2018, incident that resulted in the two officers and five others being shot.

Frederick Hopkins was later charged in the shooting with five counts of attempted murder and with the murders of Sgt. Terrence Carraway and Florence County Investigator Farrah Turner, who both died in the shooting.

Prosecutors say that Frederick Hopkins opened fire on officers who were attempting to serve a warrant for his son, Seth Hopkins, regarding sex offenses involving children. Following the 2018 shooting incident, Seth Hopkins plead guilty in 2019 to a criminal sexual conduct charge and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

However, the lawsuit – which adopts the narrative posed in the criminal complaint lodged against Frederick Hopkins – claims that the two injured officers are entitled to damages because of the alleged circumstances that prompted to shooting of the police officers.

The lawsuit proclaims alleges convicted sex offender Seth Hopkins is partially responsible for damages due to the officers due to his “careless, negligent, grossly negligent, willful, wanton, reckless, and unlawful acts in one or more of the following particulars”:

  • Sexually assaulting minor children; b. Asking Defendant Frederick Hopkins for protection from law enforcement investigations;
  • Causing law enforcement to arrive at the residence of Frederick Hopkins;
  • Permitting Frederick Hopkins to fire upon police in his protection;
  • Knowing firearms were present in the house and failing to advise police of their presence and the dangerous propensities of Frederick Hopkins;
  • Failing to stop Frederick Hopkins from firing upon law enforcement; and
  • Such other particulars as may be evidenced at trial.

The lawsuit also proclaimed that Cheryl Hopkins – Frederick’s former wife who was married to him at the time of the incident – and David Suggs were also “careless, negligent, grossly negligent, willful, wanton, reckless, and unlawful acts in one or more of the following particulars”:

  • In keeping firearms in the home; b. In keeping unsecured firearms in the home;
  • In failing to secure the firearms in the home;
  • In keeping unsecured firearms in the home when another resident of the home, namely Frederick Hopkins, suffered from mental disorders;
  • In keeping unsecured firearms in the home when another resident of the home, namely Frederick Hopkins, exhibited violent tendencies;
  • In permitting Seth Hopkins to sexually assault minor children;
  • In failing to prevent Frederick Hopkins from firing upon and shooting law enforcement officers, including the Plaintiff;
  • In knowing firearms were present in the house and failing to advise law enforcement of their presence and the dangerous propensities of Frederick Hopkins; and
  • Such other particulars as may be evidenced at trial.

John Guerry and Jerry Theos of Theos Law firm are representing the two officers in the lawsuit, which is seeking actual and punitive damages that the court would deem fit.

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

(Originally published September 28th, 2021)

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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