HARTFORD — In a complaint filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut (ACLU-CT) contends that three state police troopers illegally retaliated against a protester by searching and detaining him, confiscating his camera, and charging him with fabricated criminal infractions. On behalf of Connecticut resident Michael Picard, the ACLU-CT alleges that John Barone, Patrick Torneo, and John Jacobi, all employed by the state police division of Connecticut’s Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, violated Picard’s First Amendment rights to free speech and information and Fourth Amendment right against warrantless seizure of his property.
On September 11, 2015, Picard was protesting near a police DUI checkpoint in West Hartford. Barone approached him under the pretext of public complaints and confiscated Picard’s legally-carried pistol and pistol permit. Barone then claimed that filming the police is illegal, and took Picard’s camera. Unbeknownst to the troopers, the camera was recording when Barone brought it to Torneo’s cruiser. With the camera rolling, the officers proceeded to: call a Hartford police officer to see if he or she had any “grudges” against Picard; open an investigation of him in the police database; and discuss a separate protest that he had organized at the state capitol.
After Barone announced “we gotta cover our ass,” either Torneo or Jacobi stated “let’s give him something,” and the three settled on fabricating two criminal infraction tickets that they issued to Picard. Torneo drove away with Picard’s camera on top of his cruiser, upon which the camera fell onto the hood of the car, Torneo stopped, and Jacobi returned the camera to Picard. In July of this year, the criminal charges against Picard were dismissed in the Connecticut Superior Court.
“Police should be focused on public safety, not punishing protesters and those who film public employees working on a public street,” said ACLU-CT legal director Dan Barrett, who is representing Picard in the lawsuit. “As the video shows, these police officers were more concerned with thwarting Mr. Picard’s free speech and covering their tracks than upholding the law.”
“Community members like me have a right to film government officials doing their jobs in public, and we should be able to protest without fearing political retribution from law enforcement,” said Picard. “As an advocate for free speech, I’m deeply disappointed that these police officers ignored my rights, particularly because two of the troopers involved were supervisors who should be setting an example for others. By seeking to hold these three police officers accountable, I hope that I can prevent the same thing from happening to someone else.”
“The evidence clearly shows that these police officers violated Mr. Picard’s rights,” said attorney Joseph R. Sastre, who defended Picard against the criminal charges and is joining Barrett to represent Picard in the civil case. “We are confident that the court will agree, and we hope that it will send a strong message to police and the public alike that enforcing the law means respecting free speech, not trampling on it.”
The complaint filed in U.S. District Court is available here.
Complete footage of the event, as gathered by Picard’s camera while it was on top of Torneo’s cruiser and with closed captioning added, is included below.