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Michigan village to pay $320K to Japanese man mistakenly accused of DWI

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A village in Michigan will be paying a $320,000 settlement to a man from Japan who was wrongly accused of drunk driving due to a mistake made by a police officer.

Rookie’s mistake: Caitlyn Peca, who was a rookie Fowlerville officer, misread a breath test of Ryohei Akima, a 37-year-old native of Yonago, Japan. Akima, who was reportedly in the U.S. on a work visa in 2020, blew a 0.02 on the test, but Peca mistakenly read it as 0.22, which is nearly three times over the legal limit in Michigan.

Federal lawsuit: A blood sample later revealed Akima’s blood-alcohol level of 0.01, leading to the charges of driving while intoxicated against him dropped days later. The Japanese man subsequently filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging a violation of the U.S. Constitution, which was approved by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Lawsuit settlement: The lawsuit reached a settlement in January, with Fowlerville, a village in Livingston County, agreeing to pay the settlement through insurance. The court highlighted that Peca conveyed over the radio to a colleague, “I have no idea what I’m doing,” at one point during the incident.

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“It would be evident to a reasonable officer that (Akima) was, quite apparently, sober,” Judge Jane Stranch said. “So a reasonable jury could conclude that (the) arrest was not supported by probable cause and that Officer Peca was not entitled to qualified immunity.”

Peca’s defense: T. Joseph Seward, the attorney representing Peca, expressed disappointment with the court's decision, asserting that Akima’s performance on roadside sobriety tests warranted his arrest. However, the appeals court noted that another officer testified that the tests were administered incorrectly, potentially impacting the results.

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