Suit against officer dismissed, but judge questions gun seizure

February 08, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge dismissed yesterday a suit filed against a Baltimore County police officer who confiscated guns in June from a convicted felon's Loveton home, but the judge said the confiscated guns might have to be returned.

Judge Lawrence R. Daniels ruled that Officer Steven Russo's seizure of 14 guns from Robert L. Serio's home after Serio was sentenced for auto manslaughter in a 1998 highway death might have violated constitutional protections against excessive fines.

Daniels also dismissed the suit against Russo, ruling that the traffic investigation officer "acted in good faith" when he obtained a warrant and confiscated the guns from Serio's house June 2.

"I don't find there's been any negligence on his part," Daniels said.

The ruling stems from Serio's suit, filed last fall, seeking the return of 14 guns confiscated by the police on the day Serio was sentenced to six months for auto manslaughter and drunken driving in a 1998 accident that killed 27-year-old Stacy L. Corbin.

Corbin was killed about 2 a.m. Oct. 8, 1998, when Serio's Porsche flipped while he was speeding along York Road in Sparks.

Russo, who investigated the accident, learned about the gun collection from Serio's estranged wife and confiscated the guns using a state law that prohibits convicted felons from having firearms.

After a hearing yesterday, Daniels ruled that though the seizure was legal, the case raises questions about whether confiscation of the weapons violates Eighth Amendment protections against excessive fines.

"What if Mr. Serio was the sole owner of Colt firearms? Would the state have the right to confiscate the entire inventory of Colt firearms?" Daniels asked Assistant County Attorney Jeffrey G. Cook.

Cook said the seizure was legitimate and that the statute authorizing the police search is intended to keep the streets safer by keeping guns out of the hands of convicted felons.

"The message of the law is, if you own guns don't commit felonies, and if you commit a felony, you're going to lose those guns," Cook said.

Serio's attorney, Warren N. Butler, said police overstepped their bounds by confiscating property after Serio was sentenced for the fatality because the guns had nothing to do with the crime.

"This is about a police action intended to punish him," he said. "It could happen to anybody in the community, and it comes down to an issue of what's reasonable, what's fair," Butler said.

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