The ACLU is suing Connecticut state troopers after an illegally seized cell phone recorded the officers conspiring to fabricate charges against a man peacefully protesting a police checkpoint.
Michael Picard has been protesting DUI checkpoints in Hartford, Conn. because he feels they are unconstitutional and a waste of state resources. He is well known to police as a peaceful protester and open carry activist. One night in September 2015, Picard was standing on a traffic island with a handwritten sign that said, “Cops ahead, remain silent.” He claims he was out there for about an hour to an hour and a half when he was approached by state troopers.
When Picard attempted to film the officers they slapped the phone out of his hand without a word. The troopers search Picard and find the gun they knew he was carrying and while they go run the pistol he has a permit for, Picard picks up the phone he believes is broken.
That’s when the recording starts. The officer says Picard has no right to take his picture, and Picard being versed on the First Amendment states that he is on public property so the officer should have no reasonable expectation of privacy. That’s when the officer illegally confiscates the phone and takes it to his fellow officers who had no idea they were being recorded on video.
After the weapons permit comes up valid, the troopers then appear to attempt to come up with bullsh*t charges against the protester:
Have the Hartford Lieutenant call me, I want to see if he has any grudges.”
Trooper First Class John Barone then says:
You want me to punch a number on this either way? Gotta cover our ass.”
This means they want to open up a police investigation in the database. They ponder for a while “we could hit him with this, we could hit him with that.” Then Master Sargeant Patrick Torneo says:
And then we claim that, um, in backup, we had multiple people, um, they didn’t want to stay and give us a statement so we took our own course of action.”
Picard was eventually charged with “reckless use of a highway by a pedestrian,” and “creating a public disturbance.” The state eventually dropped both charges, but Picard filed a complaint. Over a year later an internal review was not finished and the internal investigators contacted Picard personally multiple times even though they were advised to speak to Picard’s lawyer.
The ACLU believed Picard’s constitutional rights were violated and that the video proves police acted unlawfully and are suing the state troopers on three charges.
The first claim in the lawsuit was that police violated Picard’s right to record when the police swatted the camera out of his hand in an attempt to break it and stopped him from taking pictures of officers license plates. The second claim in the lawsuit was that Picard’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when police seized the camera without probable cause. The third claim in the lawsuit is that the police retaliated because they didn’t like Picard, didn’t like being recorded and were caught manufacturing charges against Picard.
The ACLU writes:
The really interesting thing about this case is not just that the state troopers were so openly hostile to being recorded, or to anyone seeing what they were up to, but also that they appear to have had a very frank discussion inside the cruiser about how to punish somebody who was protesting them.”
As we watch Black Lives Matter protesters arrested on silly charges like not standing on a sidewalk and loitering, it’s easy to imagine police having similar discussions with their fellow officers across the nation. But only Picard was lucky enough to capture proof that some officers aren’t at all interested in protecting the constitutional rights of American citizens.
Featured Image via YouTube screen capture