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In a US federal civil rights lawsuit, a Connecticut man has shared footage to bolster his claims that police illegally confronted the pedestrian because he was filming one of them.
Authorities seized Michael Picard’s camera and his permitted pistol, and the officers involved then accidentally recorded themselves allegedly fabricating charges against the man.
Picard’s police encounter began as he was protesting a sobriety checkpoint while lawfully carrying a handgun in a holster. The plaintiff often protests near sobriety checkpoints in the Hartford region and is known by locals and police in the area, according to court documents. “Cops Ahead: Keep Calm and Remain Silent,” read the 3-foot-by-2-foot sign Picard held up to motorists ahead of the checkpoint in West Hartford last year.
According to the lawsuit, trooper John Barone walked up to Picard and said “someone called in” a complaint about a man “waving a gun and pointing it at people.” It’s a claim the lawsuit alleges is fabricated.
The lawsuit also states that Barone “swatted” the digital camera out of Picard’s hands and onto the ground, at which point the battery dislodged.
Barone seized Picard’s pistol and “took the handgun permit out of Picard’s pants pocket,” according to the suit.
The officer briefly walked away to a patrol car, and Picard picked up his camera, inserted the battery and began filming again, according to the suit.
“It’s illegal to take my picture,” the officer is overheard saying on the video.
“No, it isn’t,” Picard replies.
“It’s illegal to take my picture. Personally, it is illegal,” Barone says before taking the camera. “I got the camera,” he tells fellow officers.
The officer next put the camera on the light bar on the roof of a patrol car, pointed skyward.
It was still running.
There likely would be no lawsuit without the footage, Picard’s lawyer told Ars.
According to the lawsuit: “Unbeknownst to the defendants, Mr. Picard had been using the camera to record video and audio, not still photographs, and the camera continued recording until it was returned to Mr. Picard.”
After taking the camera, Barone started speaking with fellow troopers Patrick Torneo and John Jacobi, according to the tape and the federal lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The trio didn’t know this conversation was being recorded.
After the brief encounter, Picard was given back his device, but not before he received two citations the lawsuit claims are unjustified.
According to the footage, when Barone checks to see if Picard has a permit for his weapon, he finds out from somebody on the radio that it’s “valid.” On the tape, you hear a big “ugh” from Barone, who seems upset that Picard is lawfully carrying a weapon.
The officers want to know if the lieutenant in the area has “any grudges” against Picard.
Barone is next overheard saying that we “Gotta cover our ass.” The officers then allegedly plot other charges.
Jacobi: “So, we can hit him with reckless use of the highway by a pedestrian and creating a public disturbance….”
Jacobi: “[That’s] two tickets.”
Trooper Torneo is overheard on the footage saying they could “claim” that motorists complained about a man waving a gun “but that no one wanted to stop and give a statement.”
The tickets Picard got were for the alleged use of a highway by a pedestrian and for allegedly creating a public disturbance for carrying an “exposed loaded sidearm in plain view of passing motorists.” The authorities eventually dismissed the tickets.
Picard’s attorney, Dan Barrett of the ACLU, said his client likely wouldn’t have much of a case without this video evidence.
“It would be very tough,” the attorney told Ars. “It’s not always the way police say it is.”
How did the camera—and the unexpected footage—end up back with Picard? According to the suit:
After Mr. Picard had been given the tickets, defendant Torneo drove away from the scene with Mr. Picard’s camera still on the light bar of his cruiser.
It fell onto the hood of the car, and Torneo stopped and instructed defendant Jacobi to give the camera back to Mr. Picard. Jacobi did so.
The suit claims violations of Picard’s First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights.
Connecticut state police said they opened an internal investigation into the matter.
The Connecticut State Police Union said the lawsuit is “frivolous and will ultimately be dismissed.”
Listing image by ACLU