Police sued for gun seizure
Lawsuit: Officers violated civil rights
While attempting to seize guns from a man accused of domestic violence, Chichester and Epsom police officers took away firearms belonging to his family members instead, in violation of their civil rights, according to allegations contained in a lawsuit.
Four members of Michael Martel Jr.'s family say he wasn't living in their Chichester home last August when officers stormed in, taking about a dozen guns, including one from his father's holster, according to their attorney, Richard Lehmann.
It took the family 10 weeks to retrieve their firearms, according to the suit, during which time the family members suffered 'injuries including mental anguish, embarrassment, violation of their privacy and the sanctity of their home, (and) the fear of knowing that they were left exposed and unable to defend themselves.'
The suit, filed Jan. 18 in Merrimack County Superior Court, names the three officers who executed the protection order: Brian Michael and Dan Flanders of the Epsom Police Department and Jonathon Adinolfo of the Chichester Police Department. The departments' two chiefs, as well as the towns, are also named as defendants.
Lehmann said the family will request monetary compensation, though he declined to give a figure.
Charles Bauer, the town of Chichester's attorney, said last week he had only recently reviewed the claims but finds them to be unfounded, adding that he expects the case to be dismissed by a judge.
'There are court orders that deal with weapons. And the weapons were appropriately confiscated pursuant to the court order and they were appropriately returned upon court order,' Bauer said, declining to discuss further specifics.
Chichester police Chief Patrick Clarke and Town Administrator Nancy Tanner declined to comment on the case. Contacted last week, Epsom Selectmen Chairman Keith Cota said he was not yet aware of the case. After consulting with the town's attorney, Tony Soltani, Cota said the town has not yet been informed of the lawsuit. Epsom police Chief Wayne Preve did not return requests for comment.
The firearms were taken last August shortly after Michael Martel Jr.'s ex-girlfriend filed a protective order against him, alleging physical and verbal abuse as well as stalking.
According to the lawsuit, officers executing a court order arrived at the home of Martel's parents on Mason Road in Chichester, taking guns from Lynda Martel and Michael Martel Sr. as well as their sons, Christopher Martel and Jeremiah Martel.
The court order requiring Michael Martel Jr. to surrender his guns was not available at Concord's district court, but according to the lawsuit it directed him to 'relinquish to a peace officer all firearms and ammunition in his/her control, ownership or possession, or in the possession of any other person on behalf of the defendant.'
According to Lehmann, none of the guns taken fell under those provisions.
'He has to have the right to govern the disposition of the property for it to be in his control,' he said. 'If someone else can decide what happens to it, then it's not in his control.'
According to court documents, Martel, 23, was homeless and living in Pittsfield in September. Lehmann said his driver's license listed his parents' address, but he was not living there at the time of the incident.
The seized firearms were returned after 10 weeks following an appeal by Michael Martel Sr. and Lynda Martel, court documents show.
'The plaintiffs were deprived their constitutional right to keep and bear arms in protection of themselves and their families,' the lawsuit alleges. 'For the entire period of deprivation, the plaintiffs were unable to engage in the fundamental, natural and constitutional right to defend themselves.'
The case also includes charges of trespassing, invasion of privacy and negligent hiring and supervision.
According to court documents, the defendants have until March 6 to respond to the lawsuit.
(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)