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SALT LAKE CITY — An Arizona man has filed a federal lawsuit against Box Elder County, saying he was held behind bars for 17 days without access to an attorney and without any charges filed against him.
He claims he was jailed all because another driver told a trooper that he had swerved on the freeway.
Robert Kuchcinski filed the complaint in U.S. District Court Friday against Box Elder County, the Box Elder County Jail and the Box Elder County Sheriff's Office alleging violations of his constitutional rights and state laws, and false imprisonment.
According to the complaint, Kuchcinski was stopped on June 16, 2012, while driving an "18-wheel tractor-trailer combination" on I-15 near Tremonton when he reached across the vehicle's cab to retrieve an item.
The action caused the man's vehicle to drift once, but he quickly corrected himself and returned to his lane, the lawsuit states. Five to 10 minutes later, Kuchcinski said he was stopped by a Utah Highway Patrol trooper responding to a call from another motorist who had seen the vehicle drift and worried that its driver was impaired.
The trooper cited Kuchcinski for failure to stay in one lane based on the testimony of the witness, who was there for the traffic stop. The trooper also asked that the man take a breathalyzer test.
"(Kuchcinski) complied; (the trooper) read the results and muttered something to the effect of, 'Well, that can't be right,'" the lawsuit states.
"Aside from the class C misdemeanor for failure to stay in one lane, for which jail time is not an authorized punishment under Utah law, he was not charged with any crime."
The trooper asked Kuchcinski to perform field sobriety tests and those related to balance indicated possible intoxication, which Kuchcinski tried to explain were attributable to an infection of his inner ear. According to the complaint, the trooper ignored this explanation and arrested Kuchcinski for suspicion of driving while impaired. Once at the jail, Kuchcinski provided a blood sample for analysis.
"From that time until 17 days later, (Kuchcinski) remained incarcerated in the Box Elder County Jail," the complaint states. "At no time was he brought before a judge for arraignment and at no time was he formally charged with any crime other than the traffic citation, a mere infraction. Likewise, he was not afforded an opportunity to confer with counsel."
When Kuchcinski asked a deputy when he would be allowed to see a judge more than two weeks later on July 2, he said he hadn't been given a chance to contact an attorney and was then allowed to do so. He was released from jail the next day, the complaint states.
"Aside from the class C misdemeanor for failure to stay in one lane, for which jail time is not an authorized punishment under Utah law, he was not charged with any crime," the lawsuit states. Days later, Kuchcinski's attorney said he received a copy of the results of the breathalyzer and blood analysis tests that showed a 0.0 blood-alcohol level and negative reads for any kind of impairment.
The man's incarceration led to him losing his job and "the overwhelming distress" of his time in jail left Kuchcinski with psychological trauma, flashbacks and anxiety attacks at the thought of driving more than a few miles, according to the complaint. These "debilitating" attacks have prevented him from finding employment as a driver, which is the occupation Kuchcinski had held for most of his life.
Kuchcinski alleges the incident amounted to violations of his constitutional right to counsel, a speedy trial, notice of the nature and cause of accusations, due process as well as violations of state laws that allow for a bail hearing and arraignment, and false imprisonment. He is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and the cost of attorneys, fees and any needed witnesses.
Box Elder County Attorney Stephen Hadfield said Friday he had not yet been served with the complaint and he declined to comment.