Three Connecticut state troopers are in hot water after accidentally recording themselves on camera while apparently conspiring to fabricate criminal charges against a protester, Michael Picard. Picard is now suing the troopers.
Picard has built a name for himself within the Connecticut activist community, thanks in part to a number of videos he’s uploaded to YouTube. The videos feature his interactions with the police, where he demonstrates the various rights that he’s afforded as a citizen. In particular, Picard’s taken issue with DUI checkpoints used to randomly question drivers whether they’ve been drinking; he views them as a waste of taxpayer money.
On September 11th, 2015, Picard pulled up near a DUI checkpoint with a simple handwritten sign warning oncoming drivers that the police were nearby and instructing them to keep calm. Though he did not engage directly with any of the drivers or the officers, his lawsuit alleges that it wasn’t long before state trooper John Barone approached him saying that someone had called in with a tip about a man “waving a gun and pointing it at people.”
While Picard was, in fact, carrying a gun in his holster, he was also in possession of the permit allowing him to carry it. Picard says that Barone proceeded to slap his camera out of his hand before confiscating his gun while shouting that he’d “found” a weapon, as if he wasn’t following the law.
Concerned, Picard picked up his camera to continue recording the interaction when Barone suddenly became defensive, incorrectly telling Picard that it was illegal to take his picture. Picard responded by pointing out that they were both on public property. In response, Barone snatched the camera away.
What Barone did not know was that the camera had captured the entire exchange and continued to record once he went back to his squad car to speak with Sergeant John Jacobi and Master Sergeant Patrick Torneo about what to do next.
The video has since been publicly posted by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is backing Picard’s suit.
In it, the officers openly discuss how they can charge Picard, even though he hadn’t broken any laws. Barone can be heard saying, “Gotta cover our ass.” They mull attempting to get Picard for standing on a traffic island where pedestrians aren’t technically supposed to be, with Jacobi saying, “we can hit him with reckless use of the highway by a pedestrian and creating a public disturbance.”
Torneo gives the go-ahead for the plan and together the three policemen proceed to charge Picard for the alleged creation of a public disturbance and recklessly using the highway while on foot.
Now, with the help of the ACLU, Picard is suing Barone, Jacobi, and Torneo for violating his First and Fourth Amendment rights and violating a recent Connecticut statute expressly giving citizens the right to record their public interactions with police officers. The Connecticut State Police Department told me it was not currently commenting on the lawsuit against the three officers—who have not faced any sort of repercussions for their actions.
“This is an interaction that was recorded from start to finish on high-quality digital video,” the Connecticut ACLU legal director Dan Barret said in a public statement about the case. “A year later, there has been zero movement on the internal affairs investigation as far as anyone knows, which just shows that police and prosecutors in Connecticut should not be in charge of policing themselves.”