Apr 24, 2012

(AJC) -- A Newton County man and his son who authorities said held a gun on the new owners of a neighboring home were arrested Monday night and charged with aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal trespass.

Porterdale resident Robert Canoles said he has no second thoughts about interrupting what he thought was a robbery in progress Thursday night at his neighbor's house -- though he is now facing criminal charges just days after deputies lauded his armed response.

Canoles said he and his teenage son, Branden, heard noises from the once-foreclosed home next door, vacant for seven months. They grabbed their AR-15s and snuck up behind a man and woman fiddling with the front door lock.

Jean-Joseph Kalonji, 61, and his 57-year-old wife, Angelica, following their real estate agent's advice, had driven to Porterdale to change the locks on the home their son Bruno Kalonji had just purchased. They found themselves prisoners of two men they didn't know clutching semi-automatic rifles.

"Shut up or I'll shoot," Canoles allegedly told the couple after they tried to explain that their son now owned the modest home sitting on 11 acres. Canoles asked to see the closing paperwork, which the Kalonjis didn't have.

For roughly 10 minutes, the Kalonjis -- who moved to the U.S. from Zaire in the late 1990s to escape persecution from the brutal Mobutu regime -- stood nervously, arms lifted over their heads, backs turned to the gunmen.

"I didn't know who they were," Jean-Joseph Kalonji told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday. "Were they there to rob us?"

Their fears were lifted when deputies from the Newton County Sheriff's Department, contacted by Canoles, arrived. But their relief was short-lived. The deputies, demanding proof the home was theirs, handcuffed the Kalonjis.

"I told them, ‘Call my son, he'll tell you,' " said Jean-Joseph Kalonji, a teacher in Zaire who found work as an electrician after moving to America. "I begged them to call him, but they wouldn't do it."

The couple were booked into jail, charged with loitering and prowling.

Canoles, meanwhile, said he was lauded by the responding officers.

"The police told me I did a good job," said Canoles, 45, who was never questioned that night. He spoke again with deputies on Friday and said he was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Now, four days later, Canoles finds himself facing charges after the Newton County Sheriff's Office and District Attorney met Monday with the Kalonjis and their attorney, Don Samuel.

Samuel typically handles a higher-profile clientele, including NFL star Ray Lewis, former Atlanta Thrashers star Dany Heatley and rapper T.I.

The lawyer said he took the case as a favor to Bruno Kalonji, who had taught his kids soccer. Charges against the elder Kalonjis were dropped while the sheriff promised an internal investigation into the deputies' actions.

The Kalonjis said they were also given assurances that their new neighbor will face charges for what Samuel called his "vigilante justice."

"If police had just made the one phone call to Bruno, this all could've been avoided," Samuel said.

On Monday, Canoles and his son were summoned for another interview with Newton County officials, who told them to bring in their guns.

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 were being held without bond Tuesday, online jail records show.

"I don't know what they can charge me with," Canoles said late Monday afternoon, before the interview with authorities. "This is my Second Amendment right. Look, this is the country out here, and we protect our own."

Meanwhile, his neighbors are having second thoughts about moving into their new home, which Bruno Kalonji called a dream come true. He plans to build a soccer field on his land while his agrarian parents, who will share the home with their daughter-in-law and grandson, look forward to raising chickens on the bucolic spread.

"We're waiting to move," Bruno Kalonji said. "We're still afraid of what the guy next door might do."


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