Bogus Wiretap Charges Brought Against Man Who Recorded Cops Costs NH Taxpayers $275,000

from the public-servants-still-screwing-the-people-they-serve dept

One of those things I thought would have gone out of vogue is apparently still in style in New Hampshire. The number of bullshit wiretap prosecutions brought against people recording cops has dropped precipitously over the past half-decade as courts have found use of wiretap statutes in this fashion unconstitutional, but over in the Live Free or Die state, the statute lives freely and dies even harder.

Back in 2015, prosecutors brought wiretapping charges against Alfredo Valentin. Valentin had returned home one day to find a SWAT team in the middle of a no-knock raid. Apparently, Valentin’s roommate was also a heroin dealer. Valentin had been called home by a neighbor who noticed his dog wandering the street, apparently set free (and still alive!) by the SWAT team’s home-breaching efforts. Valentin chose to record the officers as they proceeded with the raid despite officers telling him (wrongly) that he couldn’t.

This became a wiretapping charge because the cops couldn’t handle a citizen ignoring a direct order. They claimed Valentin “hid” the phone by placing it down by his leg while he kept recording. Apparently, the officers could still see the phone, so claims of it being a “secret” recording were per se moronic. But this was what the flimsy, highly-questionable charges rested on: a supposedly surreptitious recording officers in attendance knew was happening.

The charges were tossed and Valentin sued. Now, with the ACLU’s help, Valentin has obtained a settlement (but not an admission of wrongdoing) from the government.

The settlement, which was reached in late September, was announced Wednesday by the ACLU-New Hampshire.

Lehmann said Valentin received about two-thirds of the settlement, and he will use it to get his life back together. He was arrested in March 2015. The previous year, Free State activists from New Hampshire prevailed when the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that any person has a First Amendment right to video or audio-record police officers engaged in official duties in public places.

Gilles Bissonnette, the ACLU-NH’s legal director and co-counsel, said the settlement recognizes that recordings of police are a critical check on police power.

“The police need to understand that individuals who are recording their work without interference have a constitutional right to do so, and it is not cause for their arrest,” Bissonnette said.

The First Amendment right exists with or without a police officer giving consent to the recording, the ACLU said.

The $275,000 settlement will hopefully help Valentin piece back together a life law enforcement officers vindictively destroyed. Following his arrest, Valentin lost his job of eleven years and has spent the past two years trying — and failing — to restart his career. Having a felony arrest on his record doesn’t help, even if charges were ultimately dropped.

New Hampshire’s wiretapping statute still stands. The state requires two-party consent for recordings. But, as has been pointed out by courts previously, the state’s statute does not apply to recording public servants like police officers performing their duties in public. The state’s Attorney General made this explicitly clear in the wake of the First Circuit Appeals Court’s Glik decision. A memo [PDF] clarifying the right to record police was sent to law enforcement agencies in 2012, so the officers here — and the prosecutor who chose to continue pressing charges — had no excuse for their actions. In the process, they cost an innocent person his job and derailed his life for the better part of two years. And in the end, they’ll have the bill covered by New Hampshire taxpayers and a signed agreement saying they did nothing wrong.

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Comments on “Bogus Wiretap Charges Brought Against Man Who Recorded Cops Costs NH Taxpayers $275,000”

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29 Comments
bob says:

Re: 275K? Not even close to enough

while I’m not sure about stripping them mof their houses, etc.. I think that going after their pensions would be in alignment. they broke the rules as cops, their cop pensions are forfeight as much as necessary to pay for their wrondgoing.
perhaps if it was tied to ALL pensions of the particular police station, other officers would be incentivized to curb such bad behaviour because it would hurt them as well.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Prosecutors

Well, what incentive do they have to not be corrupt? They are immune to all civil lawsuits no matter how blatant their rights violations are, and unless they decide to prosecute themselves they are effectively immune to criminal prosecution as well.

If you were to pass a law that gave anyone, from the poorest illegal immigrant to the President of the United States that sort of civil law immunity prosecutors have, it would be struck down as unconstitutional so fast judges would be lining up to do so. But it’s not a law — judges just refuse to hear any case that tries to sue a prosecutor, despite the fact that courts cannot create new laws.

If anybody but a court did it, the courts would point to it as proof of corruption. But not if courts do it.

Anonymous Coward says:

‘In the process, they cost an innocent person his job and derailed his life for the better part of two years’

not just 2 years. is he working again now? if so, is the job as satisfying and well-paid as the one he was caused to lose? he and any others in a similar position, anywhere, deserve much more than this paltry sum! he has the rest of his life to live and bills to pay. the ability to do that was completely removed through no fault of his own. he deserves better! the police deserve much harsher punishments!! without them, there are no deterrents!!

Anonymous Coward says:

whataboutism: role reversal

But what about all those TV shows that have a camera crew “embedded” with the cops on a nighttime raid as they bust down doors and abuse people in their underwear (or worse)?

Such extreme privacy-violating scenes have been a staple on TV for decades, and I’ve never understood how the authorities have ever been able to get away with that.

It’s indeed a strange system when anyone who dares to film themselves being filmed by a (for-profit) TV show crew during a police raid of their house gets charged with a crime.

And then what about that still-alive dog? Isn’t it standard policy for police to shoot and kill any –and every– dog they come across in a house raid? Maybe that one hid under the sofa and then made a fast dash toward the open door, perhaps even dodging bullets on the way.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: whataboutism: role reversal

Such extreme privacy-violating scenes have been a staple on TV for decades, and I’ve never understood how the authorities have ever been able to get away with that.

I believe (but IANAL, so I don’t know for sure) that shows like "Cops" have to obtain a signed release from the "perps" before they can air the video without blurring the identities, especially if it’s filmed on private property.

I would imagine that getting a signed release wouldn’t cost much more than bail money in most cases.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: whataboutism: role reversal

especially if it’s filmed on private property

Screw the post-raid releases. What right to do private, non-governmental entities have to be on the property in the first place?

This is something I’ve always wondered about shows like COPS, where the cameras follow the officers in real time as they enter people’s homes. The cops may have the legal right to be there given the circumstances, but there is no set of circumstances that gives employees of a TV company the right to enter my home without my permission, nor does the government have the legal authority to give other private parties the right to enter my home without my permission.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: whataboutism: role reversal

What right to do private, non-governmental entities have to be on the property in the first place?

They don’t have that right according to SCOTUS. WILSON V. LAYNE (98-83) 526 U.S. 603 (1999).

Based on what I’ve seen of COPS, most of the people on the show don’t seem very educated and/or have a lot of money so they are probably coerced into quiet settlements by the network’s army of lawyers when this comes up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 whataboutism: role reversal

Some of those police-raid TV shows were far worse than “Cops”, like the completely over the top stunts in “Steven Seagal: Lawman” – a reality show that turned out to be all too real.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/08/31/actor-steven-seagal-sued-for-driving-tank-into-arizona-home-killing-puppy

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: whataboutism: role reversal

“whataboutism”

this is literally people pointing out hypocrisy and double standards. People will go to any lengths… and I mean ANY to refuse to admit being wrong about something.

Someone calls you out on your double standards or hypocrisy and all you need to do is accuse of them of whataboutism in hopes they shut up about it.

weak!!!

Ed (profile) says:

Sueing the state or city or other government is never going to stop this abuse by police and prosecutors. To really send a message, sue the individual police and prosecutors. Attack their pensions. Sue the police unions for racketeering. When their pensions are depleted and the individuals are bankrupted, maybe then they’ll start paying attention. Just shoving the liability onto taxpayers gets nothing but a shoulder-shrug from the perpetrators. Hit them where it hurts them individually.

JohnZ says:

Prosecutors

If you really want the low down on prosecutors and how they operate, I suggest reading Harvey Silverglate’s book ” Three felonies A Day”. It will give anyone insight into the nefarious activities of these political social climbers.
Be forewarned: Americans on average commit three felonies a day without realizing it. A routine traffic stop may end up escalating into a deadly and fatal situation.
For more , visit the Rutherford.org.

Al Pine says:

I just left court 8/29/2022 with a bogus trespass trial that never happened. The reason: I recorded the officer at my door and in two phone calls. The prosecutor said I may want to get a lawyer because NH is a two party state. He told me I was facing 7 years. I laughed in his face but the judge wouldn’t let me speak about the recordings and transcripts. He continued my trial until the prosecutor has time to investigate my crime of NH RSA 570A.

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