When they tried to get into their newly-purchased Newton County home the evening of April 19, 2012, Jean-Joseph and Angelica Kalonji were held at gunpoint by their next-door neighbors and eventually arrested by Newton County Sheriff’s deputies.
A year and a half later, the Kalonjis are suing both their neighbors and the two deputies who arrested the Kalonjis.
The civil lawsuit, which was filed in November, names Robert and Braden Canoles, the father and son who originally held the Kalonjis at gunpoint and who themselves were later arrested on charges of aggravated assault, criminal trespass and false imprisonment.
The lawsuit also names Newton County Sheriff’s Deputy Darrell Odom and Sgt. Kenneth Kent, the two deputies who arrived on scene and arrested the Kalonjis when the couple couldn’t produce their closing papers, which they said were with their son in Stone Mountain.
The lawsuit seeks actual damages of no less than $500,000 and punitive damages to be determined by a jury. The lawsuit alleges the Canoles trespassed on the Kalonjis’ property and falsely imprisoned and assaulted them by holding them at gunpoint and alleges the deputies violated the Kalonjis’ rights under the Fourth Amendment (no search, seizure or warrant issues without probable cause) and Fourteenth Amendment (not to deprive any person of liberty without due process).
The Kalonjis’ attorneys, Thomas Mondelli and Jeremy Citron, did not respond to requests for comments about why the lawsuit was being sought, but the official complaint they filed in federal court said: “The actions of all defendants, separately and collectively, demonstrate a want of care so severe that punitive damages are authorized not only to punish defendants' past conduct but to deter future misconduct as well.”
As for the Canoles, they were “shocked and dismayed” at the lawsuit’s filing, said their attorney, Mark Bergeson, who added the Canoles thought any dispute had been reconciled at the May 2012 press conference.
“The Kalonjis and Canoles have been acting as good neighbors ever since. They’ve even had get-togethers, such as meals at the Canoles’ home,” Bergeson said.
Bergeson said the Kalonjis even asked the Canoles to watch their house for multiple weeks in late 2012 and early 2013 when the Kalonjis had to leave the country for an emergency.
“They asked the Canoles to watch their dog and some of their farm animals, which (the Canoles) did. There has been a friendship established between the two families during the past two years, so this lawsuit came out of nowhere,” Bergeson said.
As far as the basis of the lawsuit, Bergeson said the Canoles’ defense is that they felt they were justified in their actions because they thought a burglary was occurring. Bergeson said there had been previous burglaries at the house and the Canoles’ house. He said the father and son’s main defense is that they called the Sheriff’s Office and let the responding deputies sort out the situation.
As for the deputies, they’re being defended by the Cruser and Mitchell law firm, which referred comment back to the county. County Attorney Tommy Craig said the law firm works for Newton County’s insurance company. Craig said the law firm was not billing the county, because those costs are covered by the county’s insurance policy. Craig said his office is not handling any part of the case.
In their response to the complaint, the deputies’ attorneys argue the defendants had probable cause to arrest the Kalonji, in addition to other defenses.
There are a couple of contradictions between the Kalonjis’ original complaint and the defendants’ responses, including whether the “For Sale” sign was still up at the house and whether the supervisor on duty recommended the Kalonjis be arrested. In the Canoles’ answer, they say the two guns they were carrying – an AR-15 rifle and .22 caliber rifle – were both unloaded.