ST. LOUIS (CN) – A police officer who arrested a man suspected of selling counterfeit watches had no right to frisk the suspect, who turned out to be a lawyer with a penchant for collecting designer timepieces, the 8th Circuit ruled.
On Oct. 29 and 30, 2008, Karim El-Ghazzawy sold several high-end watches at Pawn America in Bloomington, Minn., for $3,900.
When El-Ghazzawy returned to the shop on Nov. 11 with five additional watches, one of its workers grew suspicious and determined that El-Ghazzawy had sold him fakes and was back with more.
Police officer Kay Berthiaume responded to the scene and immediately placed El-Ghazzawy in handcuffs, then frisked him. Though El-Ghazzawy insisted that the watches were authentic and that he had receipts for them at home, he was arrested for theft by swindle. It was Veterans Day, so El-Ghazzawy spent the night in lockup after he was fingerprinted and booked.
El-Ghazzawy’s wife brought receipts for the watches to a Bloomington detective the next day, and the pawn shop manager also reported that he authenticated the watches. A local expert and the stores that sold El-Ghazzawy the watches also chimed in to defend the timepieces’ authenticity.
El-Ghazzawy, a lawyer licensed to practice in Minnesota, fired back with a lawsuit against arresting officer Berthiaume, Pawn America and the employee who reported the “swindle.” The lawyer has settled his claims against the pawn shop and its employee, but Berthiaume hasn’t backed down.
A federal judge rejected her motion for immunity, and the federal appeals court affirmed that decision Tuesday.
“First, there was nothing in the dispatch to indicate El-Ghazzawy could be armed or dangerous,” Judge Kermit E. Bye wrote for the three-judge panel.” Second, the crime El-Ghazzawy was suspected of committing, theft by swindle, was not a dangerous crime which would cause concern of him being armed and dangerous.”
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