The middle aged couple don’t fit the profile of common criminals. As they fiddled with the lock on the door of the foreclosed trailer their son had just bought, the couple didn’t hear danger creeping up behind them.
Porterdale resident Robert Canoles and his teenage son, Branden, heard noises coming from the property next door Thursday night. Just like George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman in Sanford, Florida — the Canoles saw a black man, and automatically assumed he was a criminal.
They grabbed their AR-15 rifles and snuck up behind Jean-Joseph Kalonji, 61, and his 57-year-old wife, Angelica.
“Shut up or I’ll shoot,” Canoles allegedly told the Kalonjis who attempted to explain that their son Benji purchased the property legally.
But when asked to provide paperwork to prove the sale, the Kalonjis didn’t have the papers with them.
Earlier that day, after their son closed on the sale, their real estate agent urged the couple to go out to the 11 acre property and change the locks on the door.
The Kalonji’s — who moved to the U.S. from Zaire in the late 1990s — thought they were in friendly territory after escaping persecution from the brutal Mobutu regime in the Congo.
For 10 terrifying minutes, they wondered if they made the right decision as they stood with their backs turned to the strangers holding them at gunpoint.
“I didn’t know who they were,” Jean-Joseph Kalonji told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday. “Were they there to rob us?”
Their fears turned to relief when deputies from the Newton County Sheriff’s Department arrived on the scene. But the deputies refused to listen to their explanation, too.
“I told them, ‘Call my son, he’ll tell you,’ ” said Jean-Joseph Kalonji, who worked as a teacher in Zaire.
But without the proper paperwork, the deputies told them they would spend the night in jail.
After transporting the Kalonjis to jail, the deputies congratulated Canoles and his son for a job well done. They were not taken in for questioning, and they had an exciting story to tell their buddies over beer that weekend.
But all of that changed when the lawyers got involved.
It’s good to know powerful people in high places, especially when you’re black. And the Kalonji’s son, Benji, knew a very good attorney named Don Samuel.
Samuel’s previous clients included NFL star Ray Lewis and rapper T.I.
Benji Kalonji taught Samuel’s sons to play soccer. And in return, Samuel took on his parents’ case pro bono.
The mood of the Newton County Sheriff’s Department changed when they sat down for a meeting with the Kolonjis and their celebrity lawyer. After that meeting, the Canoles received a phone call from the police, advising them that charges might arise from their reckless behavior.
“I don’t know what they can charge me with,” Canoles said late Monday afternoon. “This is my Second Amendment right. Look, this is the country out here, and we protect our own.”
“The police told me I did a good job,” said Canoles, 45. He had spoken with investigators on Friday, who cleared him and his son of any wrongdoing.
Now, 4 days later, the deputies called Canoles and his son in for questioning. They told them to bring their rifles with them. This time there would be no congratulations or pats on the back.
They turned themselves in about 10 p.m. Monday and were booked into the Newton County Jail just before midnight, according to sheriff’s spokesman Mark Mitchell.
They are being held without bond, according to the AJC.
Just like George Zimmerman, the Canoles can’t quite comprehend why human beings, regardless of their skin color, have the right not to be detained by trigger happy vigilantes.