The Connecticut State Police have agreed to pay $50,000 to a man its officers subjected to a bunch of Constitutional violations on their way to issuing tickets to him for violations he never committed.
Here’s a brief description of how this whole thing started:
On September 11, 2015, Picard was protesting near a police DUI checkpoint in West Hartford. One of the defendants, John Barone, approached him under the pretext of public complaints and confiscated Picard’s camera and lawfully carried pistol. Unbeknownst to the troopers, the camera was recording when Barone brought it to where co-defendants Patrick Torneo and John Jacobi were talking.
That’s just part of what happened before the recording the officers weren’t aware of captured them colluding to make up crimes to charge Michael Picard with.
There’s more detail in the opinion [PDF] the court handed down last fall, which gave the State Police notice its officers were unlikely to escape Picard’s lawsuit. One officer knocked Picard’s video camera to the ground. When he picked it up to continue recording the officers, one of them did something really stupid.
While defendants discussed plaintiff, plaintiff picked up his video camera off the ground and aimed it at the three defendants.
Barone then walked back to plaintiff. He grabbed plaintiff’s video camera and told him, “It’s illegal to take my picture.” Defendants have admitted that Barone “told plaintiff that it was illegal to take his picture without permission to do so;” and that Barone “secured” plaintiff’s camera.
Once they had it in their possession, the cops ignored the camera. This is important because they later argued they seized it because they thought it might be a gun. If they really thought the camera posed a threat to them, you’d think they would have examined the camera. But they didn’t.
If they had examined the camera, they might have noticed it was still recording. This is what the camera caught as it laid on top of the officers’ vehicle.
Torneo spoke by phone to Lieutenant Allan to determine whether plaintiff had any “grudges;” asked why plaintiff was challenging them at the DUI spot checks; and discussed plaintiff’s past demonstrations.
Defendants Torneo and Barone verified that plaintiff’s pistol permit was valid, that his gun was not stolen, and that there were no warrants for his arrest.
On the video camera recording, Barone can be heard stating, “punch a number on this or do what? Gotta cover our ass.” Torneo can be heard saying, “Let’s give him something,” and “then we claim in backup that we had multiple people stop and complain … but they didn’t want to stay and give a statement.”
Here’s the recording Picard’s camera made — one that captures officers colluding to create bogus criminal charges against a citizen.
Picard was charged with two criminal infractions. Both were dropped by the prosecutor. More importantly, the court refused to extend qualified immunity to these officers on Picard’s Fourth Amendment violation allegations. It also refused QI on Picard’s First Amendment retaliation claim. With three officers facing a jury trial, the State Police has decided to buy its way out of this using taxpayer money.
This incident shows why recording police officers isn’t just important, it’s necessary. While it may be difficult to record officers’ discussions once they’re back in their vehicle, having a recording device visible and present may deter cops from fabricating charges just because they don’t like the legal activity you’re engaged in. Officers are usually pretty careful to ensure their own illegal activity goes unrecorded, but it’s tough for them to control devices operated by citizens.