Waterbury, CT – A federal judge rejected a Connecticut police officer’s request for qualified immunity and ruled he violated a pistol permit holder’s civil rights by arresting him during a 2018 traffic stop.
Basel Soukaneh was ordered out of his vehicle and arrested after he presented his pistol permit to Waterbury Police Officer Nicholas Andrzejewski during a traffic stop on Nov. 12, 2018, The Newspaper reported.
U.S. District Court Jude Janet Bond Arterton determined that Officer Andrzejewski needed more than just the existence of the pistol permit in order to establish probable cause to search and detain Soukaneh.
Arterton further ruled that siding with Officer Andrzejewski’s arguments “would eviscerate Fourth Amendment protections for lawfully armed individuals,” Forbes reported.
The incident occurred on after Soukaneh pulled his Kia Sorento LX to the side of the road to troubleshoot his iPhone GPS, which had frozen up on him.
Officer Andrzejewski said he spotted the parked car idling in a “dark and high-crime area…well-known for prostitution, drug transactions, and other criminal activity,” according to Arterton.
The officer approached the vehicle and knocked on the window, at which point Soukaneh greeted him and gave him his driver’s license and his valid pistol permit, The Newspaper reported.
He also told Officer Andrzejewski he had a handgun inside the driver’s door, according to Forbes.
According to Soukaneh’s lawsuit, Officer Andrzejewski grabbed him and pulled him out of his vehicle, then pinned him against the car and handcuffed him, The Newspaper reported.
While searching Soukaneh, he allegedly pulled out $320 in cash, a flash drive containing family photos, and a container of Soukaneh’s legally-prescribed nitroglycerin pills for his heart condition, according to the lawsuit.
Soukaneh claimed the officer then began demanding to know where the drugs and “prostitute” were, The Newspaper reported.
He said he explained that the meds were for his heart condition before Officer Andrzejewski put him in the back of a patrol unit for about 30 minutes, according to the complaint.
The officer then allegedly searched Soukaneh’s vehicle, Forbes reported.
Soukaneh was ultimately issued a citation for parking in a driveway and released, according to The Newspaper.
Even though Soukaneh was not criminally charged, the officer’s conduct exceeded what would be legally permissible for a simple detention, and would have required probable cause for arrest.
But he alleged Officer Andrzejewski kept his flash drive and his $320.
Soukaneh later sued for unlawful arrest.
Officer Andrzejewski argued that Soukaneh “disclosed he had a weapon in the vehicle,” which he claimed gave him probable cause to search and seize, Forbes reported.
The officer further argued his conduct was “justified because he had probable cause to believe [Soukaneh] was possessing a firearm without a permit as he had not yet been able to verify the validity of the permit.”
He said he had an “objectively reasonable basis to suspect that [Soukaneh] was dangerous because of the known presence of his gun,” Forbes reported.
Officer Andrzejewski also claimed he was entitled to qualified immunity in the matter.
Arterton denied the officer’s qualified immunity request and ordered the lawsuit will be allowed to continue, Forbes reported.
“In light of the uncontested fact that [Soukaneh] presented his pistol permit to [Officer Andrzejewski] before or at the time he disclosed that he was in possession of a pistol and the absence of any other indicia that [Soukaneh] was otherwise violating the statute, no reasonable officer could believe probable cause was present,” Arterton ruled, according to The Newspaper.
“An officer needs more than mere presence of a weapon for which the possessor is licensed, to justify searching a car during the course of a traffic stop,” she added, according to Forbes.
“Any contrary holding would eviscerate Fourth Amendment protections for lawfully armed individuals by presuming a license expressly permitting possession of a firearm was invalid,” the judge ruled. “No reasonable officer could conclude that plaintiff posed a meaningful threat of being ‘armed and dangerous’ simply because he disclosed that he had a pistol and a license to possess it.”
The case is now expected to go to trial, The Newspaper reported.
Officer Andrzejewski has as the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to overturn the ruling.