Couple sues neighbors, deputies over mistaken burglary

COVINGTON — Despite earlier efforts to reconcile, the couple wrongly accused of breaking into their own home has filed a federal lawsuit against their neighbors who held them at gunpoint and the two Newton County Sheriff’s Office deputies who arrested them.

Jean Joseph and his wife, Angelica Kalonji, filed a complaint in November in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia seeking $500,000 from their neighbors, Robert Canoles and his son, Branden Canoles, and NCSO Cpl. Kenneth Kent and former Deputy Darrell Odom, who are all listed as defendants in the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, the Kalonjis are claiming trespassing, false imprisonment and assault against the Canoles, and a violation of their Fourth and 14th Amendment rights against the deputies. The Kalonjis are seeking both actual and punitive damages “not only to punish defendants’ past conduct, but to deter future misconduct as well,” the complaint states.

On April 19, 2012, around 9:15 p.m., the Canoles saw flashlights and noises coming from the home next door to theirs on Lower River Road, which had been vacant for some time. They contacted the Sheriff’s Office and, carrying guns that they assert in their answer to the lawsuit were unloaded, walked to the property they believed was being burglarized.

The Kalonjis claim that their son had just closed on the purchase of the house that day and that they were changing locks on the home, as they had been advised by the real estate agent.

When Deputy Odom arrived, he had the Canoles put down their weapons and placed the Kalonjis in handcuffs. Cpl. Kent also responded to the scene. The Kalonjis stated that when they tried to explain that they were changing locks on their newly purchased home, Odom asked for proof of ownership or keys to the old locks. They told the deputies they did not have those items, but their son would be able to bring them.

The Kalonjis were then arrested and charged with loitering and prowling. They were taken to the Newton County Detention Center and later bonded out.

After the Kalonjis complained and the Sheriff’s Office reviewed the reports, the charges against the couple were dropped a few days later. The Canoles were then arrested and charged with aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal trespass in connection with the incident. The charges against them were later dropped, as well.

Odom and Kent underwent an Internal Affairs investigation. Disciplinary action was taken against the two, but neither lost his job.

In May of that year, the two neighbors seemingly had made amends. A press conference was held at the Kalonjis’ home where the neighbors embraced and the Canoles apologized for the incident, saying they looked forward to living harmoniously.

“That’s why there’s no fence over there,” Robert Canoles said during the press conference. “We’ll come over here and you can come over there. We’re sorry for what happened.”

Jean Joseph Kalonji assured the Canoles he was not angry and said he would “always be your neighbor” and that he would pursue “peace and a good life between neighbors.”

Mark Bergeson, attorney for the Canoles, said the Canoles are “shocked and saddened” by the filing of the civil lawsuit.

“The Kalonjis held a news conference on May 2, 2012, announcing that they had forgiven my clients for any alleged wrongdoing relating to the events of April 19, 2012,” Bergeson stated in an emailed response to the Citizen. “In fact, their son, Bruno Kalonji, specifically stated that there would be no civil suit filed. The Canoles have been very good neighbors with the Kalonjis ever since. They have even had get-togethers with the Kalonji family members for meals at the Canoles’ home. They cannot fathom why this lawsuit is now being pursued.”

Attempts to reach the Kalonjis, Odom, Kent and their attorneys were unsuccessful as of presstime.

According to court documents, the discovery period is open until July.