June 19, 2024

Newton man sues police for false arrest, officers countersue for defamation

Footage of traffic stop roused the community and generated fierce online discussion

Tayvin Galanakis, 19, was pulled over in late August 2022 by Newton police for using his high beams in town. Officers suspected him of drunk driving, but when a breathalyzer showed no signs of alcohol consumption, they accused him of smoking weed. Galanakis was placed under arrest after he changed his mind about taking a drug evaluation. When he took that same evaluation at the station, it showed no evidence of impairment or drug use. He was then released. Galanakis shared his experience online and it subsequently went viral.

Six months after the arrest of a college student caused an uproar in the Newton community and spurred furious online discussions, the police department is now being sued over the traffic stop for false arrest and civil rights violations, among other allegations; in turn, the officers are countersuing for defamation.

Filings from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa Central Division on Feb. 2 show Tayvin Galanakis, 19, and his Des Moines-based attorneys Mathew Boles and Adam Witosky, are suing the City of Newton, police chief Rob Burdess, officer Nathan Winters and lieutenant Christopher Wing.

Shortly after Galanakis filed his suit, the city filed counterclaims alleging he made defamatory statements, intentionally inflected emotional distress, invaded the privacy and filed false complaints against Winters and Wing, whose legal counsel is represented by the city’s law firm Brick Gentry, P.C.

In the suit, Galanakis alleges the officers had “no reasonable suspicion” to administer field sobriety tests when they pulled him over for using his high beams in town shortly after midnight on Aug. 28, 2022, nor did they have probable cause to place him under arrest or believe a criminal offense had been committed.

Despite Galanakis continually telling officers he had not been drinking alcohol and would take a breathalyzer test to prove it, Winters told him his slow response and inability to find his registration, his slurred speech, his bloodshot watery eyes and infractions in his field tests gave police probable cause.

Winters also previously claimed Galanakis smelled of alcohol. When the breathalyzer showed Galanakis had a blood-alcohol level of 0.00, Winters read him his Miranda rights without showing the results of the test and asked him the last time he smoked marijuana.

“Tonight?” Winters asked.

“No weed tonight, man. I’ve had no weed tonight. Why do you think it’s tonight? I blew zeros so now you’re trying to think I smoke weed? That’s what’s going on. You can’t do that, man. You really can’t do that. Is he allowed to do that?” Galanakis said, turning to Wing. “So I blow zeros and he suspects drugs now?”

As a football player for William Penn University in Oskaloosa, Galanakis claimed he has to participate in and pass regular drug tests in order to stay on the team. Eventually officers asked Galanakis if he would consent to drug tests at the station. At first, he said yes. When he changed his mind, he was handcuffed.

Galanakis re-consented to a drug recognition test and a urine test. The findings by officer Andrew Shinkle determined he was not intoxicated and could go home.

Although Galanakis was not charged with a crime, he described his experience in a lengthy Facebook post and later an edited video compilation of body camera footage and his own videos that has since garnered more than 1.6 million views on YouTube; all of which serve as the basis for the city’s countersuit.

The city’s suit makes frequent references to public messages about the officers made by Galanakis on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, GoFundMe and YouTube. While many messages are in response to the traffic stop, others make claims that Winters was convicted of domestic abuse.

Newton News previously reported of a protective order between Winters and his former girlfriend which states he is restrained from committing any further acts of abuse or threats of abuse. So although no criminal charges were filed against Winters, the act of a domestic abuse is implied through the order itself.

However, the order has been modified to allow Winters to conduct official police business, including carrying a firearm.

Newton maintains Winters has never been charged nor convicted of domestic abuse and that Galanakis’ statements were false, defamatory and were written and stated “with actual malice” and “with utter disregard for the truth of such statements.” The city also alleges Galanakis knew his statements were untrue.

Filings show Newton believes both officers did not violate any of the city’s standard operating procedures during the traffic stop and subsequent arrest. The city also alleges Galanakis took advantage of the publicity generated from the false and defamatory statements by using them to earn income.

As a result of the alleged false and defamatory statements and communications, the City of Newton argued Winters and Wing have suffered and will continue to suffer mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of community reputation and loss of employability, among other things.

Newton Mayor Mike Hansen told Newton News in a recent interview that the city is moving the lawsuit to federal court. Galanakis told Newton News he was informed of the city’s countersuit by his lawyers, and that his motivation behind pursuing the lawsuit was to remind the city of law and order.

From all the comments he has read on social media, Galanakis estimates an overwhelming majority of them side with him over the police officers. Those who do side with the officers, he says, all make the same argument: If Galanakis did not have an attitude with the officers, he would not have been arrested.

“This is usually what I get from the negative side, like, ‘The officers did everything right. Blah, blah, blah. You’re not going to win in court. They handled everything perfectly. You’re mouthing off. That’s why you got arrested.’ They all sound the same,” Galanakis said, noting he didn’t start “mouthing off” until he was accused of being drunk.

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.