9/2/2021Federal Judge: Connecticut Cops May Not Handcuff Driver With Gun Permit
Presenting a legal gun permit during a traffic stop is not probable cause for a de facto arrest, a federal judge in Connecticut ruled last month.
By Richard Diamond
Motorists legally carrying firearms should not be handcuffed during a traffic stop merely because they presented their concealed carry permit. US District Judge Janet Bond Arterton last month found Waterbury, Connecticut, police Officer Nicholas A. Andrzejewski violated the rights of Basel M. Soukaneh by handcuffing him and holding him in custody merely because he presented his permit on the side of the road. Lawsuit settlement talks between the the officer and the motorist broke down on Monday, opening the possibility of a trial to assess damages.
The issue arose on November 12, 2018, after Soukaneh pulled over in his Kia Sorento LX so that he could deal with the frozen GPS navigation app on his dash-mounted iPhone. Officer Andrzejewski saw the stopped car and investigated, knocking on the window. Soukaneh opened the window and said, "Hi."
"Your driver's license," Officer Andrzejewski said.
Soukaneh quickly produced his driver's license and a valid permit for carrying a handgun, which he kept attached to the sun visor. The officer said "Come out," and Soukaneh could not understand what was going on. So the officer opened the door and grabbed the motorist by the shoulder to pull him out.
"Hold on, I have a seatbelt," Soukaneh explained, trying to unbuckle while also putting the transmission in park.
Once Soukaneh was out of the Kia, the officer handcuffed him, pinning him against the car while conducting a pat down search that turned up a flash drive with some family photos, $320 in cash and a prescription drug container.
"Where's the prostitute? Where's the drugs?" Officer Andrzejewski shouted, according to the complaint.
Soukaneh explained those were legally prescribed nitroglycerin pills for his heart condition. He was held in the back of the squad car for thirty minutes, issued a ticket for parking in a driveway and then released. Soukaneh says Officer Andrzejewski never returned his money or the flash drive, so he sued for unlawful arrest. Officer Andrzejewski insisted the handcuffing was appropriate because he had not yet verified whether the permit was valid or not. The court disagreed, saying this de facto arrest was invalid.
"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," Judge Arterton ruled. "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 court declined to apply the usual grant of immunity for the officer's conduct, meaning the case will go to trial. Lawsuit settlement talks scheduled for Monday were canceled as Officer Andrzejewski is asking the Second Circuit US Court of Appeals to overturn Judge Arterton's decision.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.