U.S.A. –-(AmmoLand.com)- On 12 November 2018, at about 8:34 pm, Basel Soukaneh was driving in Waterbury, Connecticut. He was not familiar with the area and was attempting to find a house he was considering purchasing. The GPS on his cellphone had frozen. The cell phone was on a holder on the dash, so he pulled over to adjust it. Shortly after he pulled over, with the engine running, an officer knocked on his window and demanded his license. The interior lights on the vehicle were turned on.
According to the complaint, Soukaneh rolled down his window and said “Hi” to the officer. The officer yelled “Your driver’s license!”. Soukaneh then took the driver’s license and his pistol permit from the visor of his vehicle and gave them to the officer, while telling the officer he had a pistol in the car.
The officer opened the door, grabbed Soukaneh, and attempted to force him from the vehicle. Soukaneh had his seat belt on but was pulled half out of the car before he was able to turn off the ignition and release the seat belt.
Soukaneh suffers from two herniated discs, so this action caused significant pain.
The officer handcuffed Soukaneh and placed him in the back of the police car, in an awkward and painful position. The officer searched Soukaneh’s pockets and took $320 and a flash drive, which contained pictures of his deceased father.
The officer or other officers (other officers had arrived) then searched Soukaneh’s car passenger compartment and trunk. The incident is claimed to have lasted longer than 30 minutes. Eventually, Soukaneh was given a traffic citation and released.
Basel Soukaneh filed suit for violation of Constitutional rights under color of law in United States District Court, District of Connecticut on 25 July 2019.
Officer David Andrzejewski responded, though his attorney, that he was covered by qualified immunity because the plaintiff was in possession of a pistol, which made him objectively dangerous. The officer claimed qualified immunity applied simply because the pistol was there.
On 6 August 2021, The United States District Court, District of Connecticut found possession of a firearms permit and a firearm was not probable cause for arrest and search of a vehicle and was not sufficient cause for a Terry stop detention and search.
On this record, 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.Knowles, 525 U.S. at 118 (emphasis added). Any contrary holding would make it practically impossible for the lawful owner of a firearm to maintain a Fourth Amendment right to privacy in his or her automobile. See supra 9-10. The Court therefore denies summary judgment on the search of the vehicle and declines to immunize the office.
A consistent body of law is building. Mere possession of arms is not a justification to stop and/or search a person. The courts have been clear. When a legal activity is commonly practiced in a community, the mere exercise of the legal activity is not a justification to stop, or arrest, or search people who are exercising that activity.
While it may not be germane to the case, it is amusing to note the brief put forward in defense of Officer Andrzejewski misspelled the plaintiff’s name.
Soukaneh, was misspelled as Soukarieh. It is unusual to see misspelled words or names in federal court cases.
The finding that Officer David Andrzejewski does not have qualified immunity, in this case, means a settlement is likely.
Because the case can go forward, discovery can be required. Evidence such as body camera video, radio logs, telephone logs, and officer timesheets are likely to be demanded from the department. These things could establish a clear, undisputed, timeline for the stop, arrest, and search.
Several other officers may be implicated.
In such situations, Police departments are often willing to settle for a few hundred thousand dollars of taxpayer money rather than submit to discovery.
About Dean Weingarten:
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.