Man whose Seized Camera Recorded Cops Conspiring against him Settles for $50,000
Unable to foresee the consequences of his actions, a Connecticut state trooper seized a man's phone for recording him in public, inadvertently recording himself conspiring with other cops fabricating charges against the man.
The troopers then returned the phone to Michael Picard who had been standing on the side of the road holding a sign warning motorists of an upcoming sobriety checkpoint, handing him all the evidence he needed for his lawsuit. The ACLU filed the suit on his behalf.
On Friday, the state of Connecticut agreed to settle with Picard for $50,000.
The troopers who recorded themselves conspiring did nothing wrong, according to the troopers who investigated them.
According to the Associated Press:
The troopers are heard, but not seen, on Picard's recording calling a Hartford police officer to see if he or she had any "grudges" against Picard, initiating an investigation of him in a police database and discussing a previous protest Picard organized, the lawsuit said.
After finding that Picard had a valid pistol permit, Barone tells the other troopers they have to "cover" themselves, and either Torneo or Jacobi said, "Let's give him something," the lawsuit said.
The troopers wrote Picard infraction tickets for illegal use of a highway by a pedestrian and creating a public disturbance — charges that were later dropped by prosecutors.
“Michael was exercising his peaceful, lawful right to protest when Connecticut State Police seized his camera without a warrant and undermined his First Amendment right to protest and record them," said Dan Barrett, legal director of the ACLU of Connecticut. "Police must understand, and this agreement shows, that they ultimately must answer to the Constitution.”
The state police internal affairs investigator, Stavros Mellekas, now the commanding officer of state police, wrote in his report that the troopers were justified in issuing the infractions. He cited reports about Picard waving a gun at the scene and evidence that he illegally stood on a highway on-ramp.
The incident took place on September 11, 2015 when Picard stood on the side of the road holding up a sign that read, "Cops Ahead: Keep Calm and Remain Silent," an act protected by the First Amendment.
He was also legally open carrying but the gun along with the sign was too much freedom for the cops to handle – especially considering he was also recording police.
Trooper John Barone first slapped the camera out of his hands while sergeants John Jacobi and Patrick Torneo seized his gun and wallet. Picard said he picked the camera back up again which was when Barone seized it.
"It is illegal to take my picture," Barone can be heard telling Picard in the video.
"No, it isn't," Picard tells him.
"Did you get any documentation I'm allowing to take my picture?" Barone asks when there is no law that requires documentation to record cops in public.
When Picard reminded him he had no expectation of privacy in public, Barone told him he was not on public property but on state property, using logic only a government agent would believe.
Barone walks the camera over to the other two cops who discover Picard had the proper license to legally open carry.
That was when Barone tells the other cops they all must "cover our ass" for unlawfully detaining Picard.
"I had no idea that the troopers recorded themselves with my camera until I got home later that night and reviewed the footage," Picard wrote in a text message to Photography is Not a Crime.
"I remember thinking, 'I can't believe these guys left the camera running as they conspired against me.'"
Barone and Jacobi have since retired and Torneo who was a sergeant is now a lieutenant. And Stavros Mellekas (pictured above on right), the internal affairs investigator who cleared the cops, is now the top commanding officer for the entire Connecticut state police department.
Watch the video below.