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Michigan police officer's mistake leads to $320,000 deal with Japanese man wrongly accused of drunken driving

CBS News Detroit Digital Brief for Feb. 29, 2024
CBS News Detroit Digital Brief for Feb. 29, 2024 04:01

A Michigan village has agreed to a $320,000 settlement with a man from Japan who was wrongly accused of drunken driving after a police officer badly misread a breath test, court records show.

Ryohei Akima blew a 0.02 on the test, but it was mistakenly read by the Fowlerville officer as 0.22 — nearly three times over Michigan's blood-alcohol limit for driving.

Caitlyn Peca, who was a rookie officer, told a colleague over the radio, "I have no idea what I'm doing," according to a summary of the case.

Akima, a native of Yonago, Japan, was in the U.S. on a work visa in 2020. Charges of driving while intoxicated were dropped when a blood sample further showed that he wasn't drunk.

Akima, 37, filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging that Peca's actions violated the U.S. Constitution. A settlement was reached in January, a few months after a federal appeals court said the case could move forward.

"It would be evident to a reasonable officer that (Akima) was, quite apparently, sober," Judge Jane Stranch said in a 3-0 opinion. "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."

Fowlerville is paying the lawsuit settlement through insurance, records show.

An email seeking comment from Akima's lawyer wasn't immediately answered Thursday.

T. Joseph Seward, an attorney who represented Peca, claimed that performance on roadside sobriety tests was enough to make an arrest and avoid civil liability in the lawsuit.

"We're disappointed the courts didn't see it that way," he said.

Peca is no longer an officer in Fowlerville.

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