Cops Didn’t Know Camera Was on as they Conspired to Stack Charges on Citizen
(CN) — A Connecticut man received a fistful of tickets for protesting a DUI checkpoint, but he is getting the last laugh in court.
Video released in conjunction with his federal lawsuit shows police spoke openly about fabricating charges while the camera they seized recorded the whole thing.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut filed the lawsuit Thursday on behalf of Michael Picard, who has a habit of protesting DUI checkpoints because he sees them as “contrary to the Fourth Amendment, and a waste of public money.”
Picard was protesting near a checkpoint in West Hartford on Sept. 11, 2015, when Connecticut state trooper John Barone approached. In addition to Barone, the suit names as defendants fellow troopers Patrick Torneo and John Jacobi.
According to the complaint, Barone approached Picard and swatted the camera out of his hand. As the camera clattered to the ground, ejecting its battery, Barone allegedly removed a pistol from Picard’s hip holster and the pistol permit from Picard’s pant pocket.
Picard says Barone had gone to his police cruiser to talk to Torneo and Jacobi, so he picked up his camera and reinserted the battery.
As Picard began filming the officers, the footage shows Barone grabbing the camera, saying, “it’s illegal to take my picture.”
The tape was still rolling, however, when Barone put the camera on the roof and the cruiser and talked with the troopers about Picard.
Picard’s footage show that the troopers were dissatisfied when his pistol permit proved valid.
Barone asked the others, “Do you want me to punch a number on this one? We gotta cover our ass.”
“Punching a number,” according to the complaint, is police slang for opening an investigation in the electronic case management system and assigning it a case number.
The conversation turned to what charges they would issue.
“Torneo said that the defendants should issue Mr. Picard a public disturbance charge, ‘then we claim that in backup we had multiple [motorists] stopped to complain about’ a man waving a gun, ‘but that no one wanted to stop and give a statement,'” the complaint states. “Torneo emphasized the words ‘then’ and ‘multiple’ when speaking, as if formulating the defendants’ cover story aloud.”
The troopers settled on giving Picard two tickets for use of a highway by a pedestrian and for creating a public disturbance by carrying an exposed side arm in plain view of passing motorists.
Picard’s camera proved a rude awakening for the officers when Torneo started to drive away, and the camera slid off the roof onto the hood of the cruiser.
“Oh, shit,” Torneo said, as heard in the footage.
“I ended up with his camera on my roof,” he tells Torneo. “It’s still on.”
This past July, a prosecutor dropped one charge against Picard and nolled the other. Picard is seeking a civil judgment in his favor, but is not specifying any damages,
A spokeswoman for the state police said the troopers are the subject of an ongoing internal investigation.
The Connecticut State Police Unions said in a statement Friday that it believes Picard’s lawsuit is “frivolous and will ultimately be dismissed.”
They cautioned against a rush to judgment “simply because charges were dropped against Mr. Picard.”
Published by Courthouse News Service.
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