Parents sue police in an effort to retrieve late son’s seized handgun

The handgun was taken for "safekeeping" by Bristol Police last January and they still have it (Photo: BPD)

The handgun was taken “for safe keeping” by Bristol Police last January and they still have it (Photo: BPD)

The parents of a Rhode Island man who committed suicide want the agency that impounded his handgun without a warrant to give it back.

Les Breault and Debra Leffingwell, the parents of Daniel Cory Breault, filed a lawsuit in federal court last week against the Bristol Police Department and city officials claiming the city violated their due process and Second Amendment rights by refusing to turn over their late son’s handgun.

As noted in court documents, Daniel used his Springfield 1911 last January to take his own life. Responding police impounded the gun as well as a dozen others “for safe keeping.” Three months later, a probate court established his parents as the administrators of his estate and, while they were able to get authorities to turn over the guns not used in the suicide, Bristol Police refused to release the 1911.

Turning to the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island for help, the group contacted Bristol Police Chief Josue D. Canario in an effort to secure the gun for the parents only to be rebuffed by the town’s attorney. Citing potential liability issues, the city maintained the late man’s parents would need to get a court order for the handgun. This left the ACLU to back the parents in the lawsuit filed this week, citing nothing in the state’s gun laws allows Bristol to continue holding the pistol.

“While we recognize the need for police to sometimes seize weapons without the need for a warrant, they cannot arbitrarily enforce their own unconstitutional rules in deciding when to return these items to their lawful owners,” said Steven Brown, ACLU of RI executive director in a statement.

The action seeks the return of the handgun, repair for any damage it may have occurred while in the city’s possession for the past two years, and “punitive damages in a sufficient amount to deter” Bristol from similar actions in the future.

The lawsuit is the third filed by the ACLU against Rhode Island law enforcement agencies since 2012 over seized firearms. Prior litigation against the cities of Cranston and North Smithfield ended with the courts ordering the return of the weapons and pay damages.