A Seymour resident claims Ansonia police targeted him because he is Hispanic when they pulled him over and arrested him this month.
Andres Reyes, 26, was charged with interfering with an officer, tampering with physical evidence, and illegal possession of a weapon in a motor vehicle after Ansonia police pulled him over March 1.
Reyes also received infractions for possession of less than a half-ounce of cannabis, possession of drug paraphernalia, and failure to display lights.
“He didn’t do anything wrong,” said Rob Serafinowicz, Reyes’ defense attorney. “He got pulled over for driving while being Hispanic in the Valley.”
Ansonia police said the traffic stop was “legitimate” and led to the other charges because officers smelled marijuana in the car.
Lt. Andrew Cota said the department does not target people to pull over based on race.
“That’s just not happening,” Cota said. “That didn’t happen here.”
Reyes said he’s been pulled over by police in Ansonia four times since he moved to the Valley this year.
He was only issued charges during the March 1 stop, according to Serafinowicz.
Reyes was given warnings for the other traffic stops because of his service in the U.S. Marinies, Serafinowicz said.
Reyes served eight years in the U.S. Marines and did two tours of combat — one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
“The last thing I expected was to return to my own country and be discriminated against because of my race and the car I drive,” Reyes wrote in a statement e-mailed to the Valley Indy.
Reyes drives a “souped-up” Honda Civic with a dual exhaust and racing stripes, Serafinowicz said. He advised his client not to be interviewed while the criminal charges are working their way through Derby court.
Reyes told the CT Post he was harassed, “choked and punched” by Ansonia officers.
“Adjusting to life after spending time in combat is difficult enough, without be targeted by local police,” Reyes wrote in his statement.
Ansonia Police Officer Jean-Pierre Lessard noticed Reyes had a headlight out as he drove on Main Street in Ansonia on March 1, according to Lt. Cota.
Officer Lessard pulled Reyes over on Derby Avenue in Derby, just over the town line, Cota said.
“If an officer sees a violation — a head light out, a tail light out — they make a motor vehicle stop,” Cota said. “It was a legitimate motor vehicle stop.”
The officer smelled marijuana coming from the car, so he called in the department’s police dog and officer to verify, Cota said.
Cota said Reyes was chewing marijuana, trying to get rid of it before police could see. Police also found marijuana on his pants and on the floor of his car, he said.
The weapon police said they found in the car was an expandable metal baton, according to Cota.
Serafinowicz disputes the claims, saying there was no marijuana in the car — only a pipe.
Serafinowicz also claims police put a flashlight in Reyes’ mouth, cutting him.
“They tried to say his mouth was bleeding because he was chewing on marijuana,” Serafinowicz said. “You’re not going to chew on marijuana stems and cut your mouth all up.”
Serafinowicz said he will fight all the charges except for the missing tail light, “because quite frankly he did have a headlight out.”
“What we’re looking to do is see that all the false charges are thrown out and this gentleman can get on with his life,” Serafinowicz said. “It’s a case that needs to be fought because the gentleman didn’t do anything wrong.”
Reyes is due back in Superior Court in Derby on April 26.
“The case will stand on its merits in court,” Lt. Cota said.