In 2015, police search a man's car in Pittsfield; after the search was ruled illegal, he's suing the city for millions
PITTSFIELD — A Holyoke man whose vehicle was illegally searched in a 2015 heroin bust has filed a multimillion dollar civil lawsuit in federal court.
The suit by Gabriel Cordero names numerous parties, including several members of the Massachusetts State Police, the state police as a whole, the Pittsfield Police Department, Chief Michael Wynn, the city of Pittsfield and the state of Massachusetts.
Messages left for Pittsfield City Attorney Richard Dohoney seeking comment on the matter were not immediately returned Monday.
Cordero was pulled over by state police on Route 20 about 6:50 p.m. Feb. 19, 2015, after Cordero's vehicle was seen exiting the Massachusetts Turnpike from the Lee exit.
The trooper noted the vehicle had broken brake and tail lights and its windows were illegally tinted. The trooper followed the vehicle for approximately 5 miles before pulling it over.
While following the car, police ran a check on Cordero and found his license was valid, the car was properly registered and had no outstanding warrants or pending criminal charges. Police also found Cordero was from Holyoke and had been convicted of firearms violations, drug offenses and had been incarcerated.
Cordero initially refused to grant permission to search the vehicle. A passenger gave a different account of where they had been and a drug-sniffing dog was called in.
A Pittsfield officer arrived and Cordero was asked three more times for consent, which he eventually gave, police said.
In his complaint, Cordero denies giving police consent to search.
A search of the trunk recovered about 2,000 bags of heroin, and Cordero was arrested and charged with heroin trafficking and possession of a Class A drug with intent to distribute, along with the motor vehicle violations.
A motion to suppress that evidence was denied in the lower courts. But the Supreme Judicial Court last year reversed that decision and the case was ultimately dismissed.
The ruling noted a routine traffic stop cannot last longer than "reasonably necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop," unless police have grounds for suspicion that someone in the car was involved in a crime or other suspicious activity. The traffic stop in this case lasted about 45 minutes.
The ruling does not dispute that police were justified in stopping the car for the motor vehicle violations, but it said they did not have grounds for continuing their inquiries.
"This was not a case where police officers should be protected by immunity," part of Cordero's complaint reads. "They were clearly violating the federal and state constitutions under clear and well-established case law."
Cordero is seeking $30 million from each of the defendants for injuries and punitive damages. He also claims false imprisonment, battery and negligence.
The state police have filed motions to dismiss the suit on the grounds that Cordero cannot sue state agencies or their individual agents acting in an official capacity for damages.
His responses to the motions to dismiss are due in U.S. District Court by June 18. No hearing dates on that matter has yet been set.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.