In 2018, Basel M. Soukaneh stopped his car to check his phone in a questionable area of Waterbury, Connecticut. When he was approached by a police officer, he presented his driver’s license and pistol permit, notifying the cop that he had a gun in the car.
The officer then frisked and cuffed Soukaneh and put him in the back of his patrol car while he searched the entire car. A flash drive and $320 in cash were confiscated. Soukaneh sued Officer David Andrzejewski for violating his Fourth Amendment rights.
As the court ruled . . .
Defendant conceded at oral argument that his conduct following the initial stop and check of Plaintiff’s driver’s license exceeded the bounds of a Terry stop, but that the conduct was still 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….
The question thus becomes whether Plaintiff’s disclosure that he had a pistol in the car coupled with presentation of a facially valid, but not yet verified, permit can “arguably” constitute probable cause to believe that he was unlawfully possessing a weapon in his vehicle. An assessment of arguable probable cause requires consideration of the statute Defendant believed Plaintiff might be violating.
Connecticut General Statutes § 29-38(a) makes the absence of a permit while possessing a firearm inside a vehicle an element of the offense, meaning that there needed to have been some evidence indicating the probability that Plaintiff was not licensed to possess a firearm in order to suspect that he had committed the crime of unlawful possession of a firearm in a vehicle. But at no time did Defendant have any reasonable suspicion or actual knowledge of Plaintiff’s possession of the firearm without simultaneously knowing that Plaintiff demonstrated that he had an apparently valid firearm permit.
Indeed, it is undisputed that Plaintiff told Defendant that he had a pistol in the driver’s side door compartment at the time he handed his driver’s license and pistol permit to Defendant. And in his deposition, Plaintiff stated that when he handed his license and permit to Defendant, he said, “That’s my license and including [sic] my pistol permit, I have a pistol on me.” In the absence of any articulable reason for Defendant to believe the permit was counterfeit or otherwise invalid, there is no indication that Plaintiff was even arguably unlawfully possessing a firearm.
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. To accept Defendant’s reasoning would permit police officers to detain any driver because he or she may have a counterfeit or otherwise invalid driver’s license which has been rejected by the Supreme Court.
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 ….