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Greg Sakas Files a Lawsuit Against the Police Chief and City of New Bern, North Carolina

New Bern, North Carolina- On January 29, 2007 and then again on September 11 of that year, Greg Sakas’ Pure Bliss store was raided by the New Bern police department.

On the first occasion, Sakas’ store inventory was confiscated along with computers and business records. During the second raid, the replaced inventory from the first raid was again confiscated.

Calling for declaratory and injunctive relief, attorney fees and costs and recovery of actual damages, Sakas is now filing suit against the city of New Bern along with co-defendants police chief Frank Palombo and detectives Richard Hughes Jr., and Marcus Kirk.

Sakas has been operating a retail store in New Bern since 2004. His first location was at 3225 Martin Luther King Blvd. Then in 2006 Sakas moved to a new address, 2786 Neuse Blvd., the address which was raided by police.

According to the suit, Sakas sold adult movies, magazines, comic books, novelties, lingerie, marital aids and sexual devices. Citing article 26A of Chapter 14 of the North Carolina general statutes defining “adult book stores,” the suit goes on to state that North Carolina does not prohibit the sale of sexually oriented devices and sexually-oriented media, none of which is considered contraband.

Cutting to the chase, Sakas is contending that both New Bern and the co-defendants not only chose to ignore the statutes under North Carolina law but also violated his constitutional rights to protected Free Speech.

Sakas began doing retail business in New Bern in 2004 at the Martin Luther King Blvd. address as Jokes-N-Laughs. According to the suit, Sakas, at that time, communicated to city officials and the planning commission his intent to sell both adult and non-adult merchandise. It was also agreed that Sakas could not stock, sell or rent adult oriented media in a quantity or volume to meet the statutory definition of an “adult bookstore.”

Sakas was told that he wasn’t in violation in any part of the city land use ordinance. Sakas also got assurances from the city attorney Michael Scott Davis to that effect. With no police intervention or provocation during that period, Sakas subsequently moved his store to the Neuse Blvd. address in November, 2006.

He again followed city procedure and submitted a proposed product mix. A follow-up inspection by the city planning commission declared that Sakas was in full compliance with ordinances. Accordingly, Sakas received another confirmation letter from city attorney Davis.

Then on January 29, 2007, Detective Hughes, acting on a civilian complaint that Sakas was selling adult magazines, DVDs and sexually oriented devices, submitted an application for a search warrant to magistrate Betty B. Arthur. Arthur issued the warrant.

In the application, Hughes stated that there was probable cause that certain items on the premises were in violation of N.C.G.S. 14-202.11 meaning that Sakas’ store was being considered an “adult establishment,” which would have meant that Sakas was featuring arcades, live shows and massages besides adult merchandise. He was not. Consequently, the suit contends that Hughes’ affidavit set forth no facts or circumstances giving probable cause to believe that Sakas’ business met the definition of an adult establishment.

Sakas also argues that Hughes didn’t submit sufficient facts and circumstances to support his application. The suit relates how Hughes on one occasion was in Sakas’ store counting cash registers and asked a female employee where most of the store’s income came from and did that involve the sales of Adult DVDs.

“The lack of probable cause for issuance of the search warrant was patent and obvious,” argues the suit. “A reasonably well trained officer would have known that.”

During the subsequent raid of Sakas’ store, police seized adult books, magazines, DVDs, VHS tapes, sexually oriented devices, business records, invoices, cash, computers and digital data storage devices. All items of adult oriented media were seized, the suit goes on to say, thus also violating state statutes because none of the items could be considered “contraband,” unlawfully possessed, or used to commit a crime.

In the suit Sakas alleges that police didn’t provide a receipt for items confiscated, nor did they submit an inventory to the officer who executed the warrant.

Sakas himself was arrested and charged for violating GS14-202-11, operating an adult establishment. Sakas also contends that Palumbo and the other co-defendants acted hurtfully, knowingly and maliciously in obtaining the search warrant and that they systematically violated his rights to protected speech. Sakas cites Article 1, Sections 14, 19 and 20 of the North Carolina constitution as well as the 1st, 4th, 5th and 14th amendments to the constitution.

Sakas and his attorneys also point out that the items seized “unlawfully” were protected by the First Amendment.

An agreement was subsequently reached allowing Sakas to continue operating his store pending resolution of the charges. Relying on that agreement Sakas kept the store open. Notwithstanding, his premises were raided again on September 11.

This time, Detective Kirk applied for the second warrant, stating that Sakas was selling toxic substances which turned out to be video machine head cleaner. During the second raid, based on information supplied by an undercover cop, the store’s inventory was again confiscated.

As in the first instance, Sakas argues improper affidavit to establish probable cause.

To now, Sakas hasn’t received his inventory back. Sakas also contends that Palombo has authorized periodic surveillance of his store in an attempt to intimidate customers and prevent patronage. In doing so, Palombo and the co-defendants, according to Sakas, have caused him immediate and irreparable harm and that he continues to suffer substantial economic and financial loss.

The suit contends that the city of New Bern failed to train Palombo, et al in the applicable standards for obtaining a proper search warrant and failed to train them regarding the limits on government and police conduct imposed by Federal and State constitutional provisions.

The suit also alleges false imprisonment, trespass to chattels and trespass to real property.


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