False arrest blamed on Instagram post
BRIDGEPORT - Instagram is no friend to Dominique Florian.
The Fairfield college student was so excited when he got his driver’s license that he posted a photo of it on the social networking site - only to have someone steal the information and use it when the as yet unidentified man was arrested on a drug charge.
It took a persevering prosecutor, a thorough Trumbull cop and a retired lawyer to sort it all out Thursday as Florian stewed outside a Golden Hill Street courtroom.
A seasoned prosecutor, Tatiana Messina has heard it all.
So, when Florian approached her in the courtroom before the call of cases Thursday claiming he was the victim of stolen identity, Messina was skeptical. She had heard it all before, she told him.
But there was something in Florian’s earnestness and the fact that he had with him his lawyer, 81-year-old Paul Nakian of Stamford, who was still huffing and puffing from mounting the courthouse stairs, that gave her pause.
Nakian, who has basically been retired since the 1980s, is a friend of Florian’s family.
“His father called me and told me he needed my help and I couldn’t say no,” Nakian said later.
Trumbull Police Officer Ryan Tantimonico had recently been on patrol when he pulled a grey sedan over for motor vehicle violations on Main Street.
Tantimonico smelled marijuana smoke when the driver rolled down his window, according to his report. The passenger, who read off Florian’s identification information to the officer, admitted he had been smoking marijuana and turned over a small bag containing marijuana from the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt, the report states.
The officer then issued the man purporting to be Florian a ticket charging him with possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana.
The real Florian, of Morehouse Drive, Fairfield, later got a notice in the mail ordering him to appear in court on Thursday.
Messina had state investigator Kevin Hammel contact Tantimonico who volunteered that they might want to take a look at the footage of the stop from his body cam. The footage clearly showed that the young man sitting on the bench outside the courtroom was not the one ticketed by the officer.
“This was a case of stolen identity,” Messina said later after dropping the charge against Florian. “Thanks to the Trumbull Police Department and their use of body cams I was able to ascertain that the person who was issued the ticket was not Mr. Florian.”
Nakian said his client couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
“This poor guy went through hell because of this but he kept insisting he was innocent,” Nakian said. “He posted a photo of his license on Instagram which was not the smartest thing to do and I think he’s learned a very valuable lesson. As a matter of fact, I’m going to tell my grandchildren about this,” he continued. “He’s just lucky he got a prosecutor who was very open to getting to the truth and a very professional police officer.”