By Cassandra Day (Middletown Press, Published 10:08 am, Friday, October 6, 2017
MIDDLETOWN — A man suing the city claims he was arrested under false pretenses and suffered irreparable damages when police accused him of “brandishing” a toy gun while paying his property taxes at Town Hall two years ago.
Robert Baranowsky of Middletown filed a complaint Aug. 30 in Superior Court at Middletown against the city, Mayor Dan Drew, Tax Collector Taylor Funaro and Officer Matthew Bloom, also alleging malicious prosecution, unreasonable seizure and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The suit follows Baranowsky’s arrest Sept. 25, 2015, on charges of second-degree breach of peace. The state later reduced the charges to two counts of creating a public disturbance and Baranowsky was eventually acquitted, according to court documents.
The police report said Baranowsky told Funaro, “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I have a kids’ toy gun on me to keep the kids entertained,” then pulled out the mock weapon from his back pocket and placed it between them.
Baranowsky took out his wallet to pay the $1,500 in taxes, put the toy gun back into his pocket and left, authorities said. He alleges the transaction lasted nine minutes. “At no time did the plaintiff ‘brandish’ the toy, threaten anyone, or in any way indicate that the toy was, in fact, a real weapon,” the suit says.
Baranowsky told officers he found the toy earlier in the day while cleaning out his car, but didn’t realize it was in his pocket until he went to pay his bill, according to the report.
Baranowsky’s complaint alleges that Drew directed Bloom to arrest him “without cause.”
Drew had no contact with the arresting officers in the case, Middletown General Counsel Brig Smith said.
“The state brought criminal charges and, while the case did not ultimately result in conviction, it was clearly serious enough to bring the charges in the first instance,” Smith said.
The complaint also alleges Baranowsky suffered psychological trauma, profound feelings of humiliation, loss of dignity, anxiety, depression, social withdrawal, harm to his standing in the community and he was unable to work because of the charges.
“The defendants acted with malice, primarily for a purpose other than that of bringing an offender to justice,” the lawsuit says.
“The city is defending this case aggressively, as we take the safety of our citizens and employees with the utmost seriousness, especially in these times,” said Smith. “Our employees had reason to fear for their safety and our police department acted correctly in arresting Mr. Baranowsky for misdemeanor breach of peace.”
The toy gun had “an inverted barrel, which on its face was a toy and acknowledged by the arresting officer to be a toy,” court documents say.
Baranowsky is seeking monetary damages in excess of $15,000, punitive damages and to recoup his attorney's fees and related costs.
On Oct. 4, the city filed a notice of removal to federal court because it involves a “federal question and the deprivation of constitutionally protected civil rights,” according to the city’s motion.