Alfredo Valentin says due to police action, his rights were violated, his reputation was damaged and he lost his job and health insurance.
MANCHESTER, NH – A landlord is claiming his rights were violated and his reputation was damaged after he was arrested for wiretapping following a March drug raid at his property. He has named two Manchester Police officers as defendants in a $1.25 million suit against the city, filed June 19, 2015.
Manchester attorney Brandon Ross filed the suit on behalf of Alfredo Valentin claiming that the city and two police officers, Brian Leveille and Christopher Sanders, violated his constitutional right to free speech; engaged in an unreasonable search and seizure of his home; arrested him on a felony charge without probable cause; charged him with the felony crime of wiretapping in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights and for asking to see a search warrant of his home; publishing false, misleading, and defamatory statements about the unlawful arrest, thereby causing him to lose his job of 11 years.
Police Lt. Brian O’Keefe referred questions to the city solicitor’s officer. A spokesperson from the city solicitor’s office confirmed Wednesday that the city was aware of the suit and said that the case is being referred to outside counsel.
A spokesperson for the U.S. District Court in Concord said Wednesday that no defense attorney is listed on the filed paperwork.
According to the lawsuit, Valentin arrived in the aftermath of a March 3, 2015 drug raid at his property, 6 Lawton St., to find out what was going on after he had been informed by a neighbor that his dog was loose. He began videotaping the scene using his cell phone and arrested shortly thereafter by police, who charged him with wiretapping for “illegally” taping them, meaning without their consent.
Claims for damages include:
- Valentin’s First Amendment rights of free speech, and freedom from unreasonable seizure were violated by confiscating his phone after recording Leveille and Sanders “doing their public job in a public place;”
- the city failed to train officers to recognize when constitutional rights are being violated;
- for false imprisonment;
- and for libel, as Valentin subsequently lost his job of 11 years and was left without medical insurance, and that the raid and resulting arrest led to “serious damage to his reputation, humiliation, embarrassment, mental and emotional anguish and distress.”
Additionally, Ross asserts that police used “unreasonable” force in conducting the raid and caused undo damage to his residence; that Valentin’s reputation was further damaged as he became a target due to publicity of those who claimed he was a “murderer” for being involved with heroin; and liability due to his job loss and resulting loss of health insurance, which means Valentin can’t afford medication to treat his chronic asthma and diabetes.
In an interview with an online site called PINAC (Photography Is Not A Crime) Ross said police initially agreed to drop the wiretapping case, but warned that they may bring felony wiretapping charges against Valentin. On July 1 Ross received a grand jury indictment filed against Valentin on a misdemeanor wiretapping charge [see below.]
Ross said on Wednesday that while federal and state law are relatively clear on this kind of charge, the problem lies in enforcement issues.
“The state of New Hampshire law is relatively clear. New Hampshire law enforcement often choose to disregard it. Fortunately, the New Hampshire courts often look to how the federal law operates, so that definitely weights in Mr. Valentin’s favor,” Ross said.
“What makes this case alarming, is that when the officers became confrontational and said they could arrest him for recording, Mr. Valentin actually cited the now leading case, Glik v. Cunniffe, right to the police officers. The Manchester officers knew better. They just didn’t care,” Ross said. “That kind of callous indifference to the First Amendment by officers sworn to uphold the law must be aggressively challenged.”
Valentin is described in the suit as a Marine who was honorably discharged and who worked for 11 years with the same company, Longchamps Electric, as an accounts payable manager. He was let go from his job two days after his arrest.
According to the suit, in December of 2014 Valentin agreed to rent a room to a friend of a friend, Christopher Chapman. According to the court document, Valentin claims he had no knowledge that the tenant, Chapman, was involved with heroin or any illegal activity, and that Chapman “kept to himself.”
Chapman was the target of the raid, which according to the court documents, was the result of an “eight-month investigation” initiated before Chapman moved into the Lawton Street apartment. Police seized 300 grams of heroin after a search of Chapman’s belongings on March 3.
According to the court paperwork, a police SWAT unit descended on Valentin’s property after Valentin had left for work and Chapman had reported to Hillsborough County Courthouse for a violation of parole hearing. The suit alleges without any evidence to support the use of force, police “did not ring the doorbell, knock on the door, or announce themselves as police.”
The suit claims police conducted a “no-knock” raid, “firing incendiary devices through the property’s windows, kicking in the doors, and entering the property SWAT-style with semi-automatic weapons — damaging property, terrifying the two women who were still in the house, and creating an unjustifiable risk of accidental death or injury.”
Valentin became aware of the raid only after a neighbor noticed his dog was wandering in the neighborhood, and contacted Valentin via the phone number from the dog’s tags.
Valentin retrieved his dog and took it home, where he found several vehicles parked and two men wearing flannel shirts standing outside. Valentin entered his home, noting forced entry, where he met with two men he did not know and whom he regarded as intruders. He asked the two men to identify themselves and asked them what they were doing there. The men directed Valentin to leave the premises. Valentin threatened to call police, and one of the men then told Valentin they were police officers.
According to the suit, Valentin asked to see badges and that he also requested to see a search warrant, which the officers claimed to have and eventually produced. They told him to return in an hour, which Valentin did. At that time, he began recording the action with his cell phone camera. When the two officers realized he was recording, they demanded that he stop recording and argued with him over his right to do so. As Valentin headed to his car, the officers followed him and advised him he was going to be placed under arrest for wiretapping.
The suit alleges that after Valentin was arrested and handcuffed he was “made to stand in the street for about 15 minutes until a Manchester Police transport could arrive. The police officers paraded Alfredo down the street past several neighbors homes. A neighbor snapped a photograph of five Manchester Police officers putting Alfredo into the van. The photo would later end up publicly shared on social media.”
Valentin remained in a holding cell following his arrest for “approximately three to four hours” until he was released on bail. He was charged with felony wiretapping, a class B felony in violation R.S.A. 570-A:2, I, punishable with between 3.5 and 7 years in the state prison and a fine of up to $2,000.
On April 9 the criminal charge brought by Manchester Police against Valentin was nolle prossed, a Latin term for “will no longer prosecute,” which amounts to a dismissal of charges. However, Ross confirmed Wednesday that on July 1 he received a grand jury indictment for Valentin on federal wiretapping charges.
The suit also claims that police have not released records relating to his arrest and his attorney confirmed as of July 8, Valentin’s Samsung S5 phone has not been returned.
Ross said he expects Valentin will prevail in federal court, perhaps without the need for a trial.
“It is unusual to have damages of this size. I get a lot of calls on cases like this. Police break these laws with some frequency, but the damages are usually so low that there’s not much to do about it. If the worst that happened was a person was falsely arrested, held for a few hours, spoken sternly to, and then released, juries often return damages between $1,000-$4,000 per hour of incarceration,” Ross said.
“That may sound like a lot. But it’s often not quite economical to file a case. The federal civil rights act that allows citizens to address these rights violations allows for attorney’s fees, but they are not always awarded,” Ross said. “Mr. Valentin’s case is different because of the massive financial damages inflicted by the Manchester Police Department in direct retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights.”
You can read the court filing below.
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