Bluffton man continues federal case to get seized guns

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Bluffton man continues federal case to get seized guns

Published Tuesday, February 12, 2013   |  601 Words  |  

A Bluffton man whose weapons were seized by police after they said he threatened to harm himself and others this past fall has added new claims to his federal lawsuit seeking return of his guns and knives.

Anthony Valentino, 35, alleges that when the Bluffton Police Department took his weapons in September, it subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment, in addition to violating his constitutional rights, according to his amended lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in January.

Police confiscated pistols, rifles and knives from Valentino's Woods Bay Road home Sept. 12 after a standoff, which began when neighbors told officers that Valentino said he planned to harm himself, the mother of his child and his dog, according to a police report. Valentino eventually surrendered peacefully to officers and was not charged.

The amended lawsuit alleges that Valentino was shackled with his hands and feet together for more than 10 hours and denied access to water, an attorney or a phone call when he was detained under a Probate Court order.

Valentino also was ordered to undergo involuntary emergency hospitalization at Beaufort Memorial Hospital. The amended lawsuit said that after six days of treatment, Valentino received a $14,000 medical bill.

The lawsuit demands a refund of the bill amount, the return of his weapons and any other damages the court deems necessary.

The original filing named the town of Bluffton, the Bluffton Police Department and Chief Joey Reynolds as plaintiffs. The amended version adds three Bluffton police officers -- Lt. Joe Babkiewicz, Capt. Bryan Norberg and former interim Chief Angel Tubbs -- alleging they took Valentino's weapons.

Meanwhile, a motion by the 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office seeking Valentino's medical records is still pending in General Sessions Court. The motion requests that Valentino be declared mentally unfit to own or possess firearms. Once it has the records, the Solicitor's Office will schedule a hearing, Solicitor's Office spokesman Daniel Brownstein said.

Valentino's attorney Eric Erickson has countered with a request to let the federal lawsuit be heard before turning over the records.

According to hospital records filed by prosecutors, Valentino displayed "violent, destructive behavior" during his involuntary stay at Beaufort Memorial Hospital. He was released with the recommendation to continue treatment with his psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with bipolar disorder, the records said.

Valentino, however, provides a letter from his psychiatrist in his lawsuit that says "at his last examination on Oct. 4, 2012, he showed no signs of immediate risk to himself or others."

In February court filings, the town of Bluffton -- represented by David Black of the Beaufort firm Howell, Gibson & Hughes -- denied all of Valentino's allegations.

Attempts Tuesday to reach Black for comment were unsuccessful.

Babkiewicz, spokesman for the Bluffton Police Department, declined to comment.

Erickson said his client "didn't expect to have to go through all this litigation" to get his weapons back. However, the resistance from prosecutors "has made him more determined than ever," Erickson said.

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