Cop Sued For Bogus Arrest Of Man Who Broke Up The PD's Distracted Driving Sting
from the local-man-arrested-for-making-streets-safer dept
A cop couldn’t handle someone diverting his revenue stream. So he decided to do something about it. That “something” was getting sued for civil rights violations. How this will improve revenue generation remains to be seen, but for now one officer of the Stamford, Connecticut police department will need to lawyer up. (via Courthouse News Service)
The plaintiff, Michael Friend, happened to notice a bunch of police officers issuing tickets to drivers for distracted driving. One officer, Richard Gasparino, was hiding behind a telephone pole on the other side of the street looking for drivers using their cellphones and relaying his suspicions to officers further down the road.
Friend moved south of the Stamford PD sting operation and held up a handwritten sign reading “Cops Ahead.” This didn’t sit well with Officer Gasparino, who swiftly decided he’d like to be sued by Friend and his representation. He began his tour of culpability with the following hilarious assertion. From the lawsuit [PDF]:
[T]he defendant approached Mr. Friend and snatched the sign from him.
Mr. Friend began video recording the defendant with his phone, as he thought the defendant was behaving illegally.
The defendant told Mr. Friend that he was “interfering with our police investigation” and told Friend to leave the spot where he was standing.
Calling this little operation an “investigation” really stretches the meaning of the word. There’s literally zero investigating going on. A static speed camera does just as much investigating.
From there, things got worse/stupider/more unconstitutional. Friend walked away from this, headed another block south, and made a bigger sign. Thirty minutes later, Officer Gasparino came back for more. Friend again took out his phone and began recording.
[T]he defendant snatched Mr. Friend’s phone and stopped Friend from recording because he claimed to want to “protect [him]self from any false claims of physical abuse.”
Um. What? One would think a recording would be the best evidence to use against “false claims of physical abuse.” I guess recordings made by citizens don’t count. Officer Gasparino took the phone in Friend’s hand as well as one he was carrying in his pocket. This sounds exactly like an unjustified search and seizure — one that’s at least partially captured on phone tape.
Seeing that his bogus claim of investigation interference was having zero effect on Friend’s sign-making, Gasparino upped the ante by arresting Friend for interfering with the so-called “investigation.” Friend was taken to the station by another officer, who helpfully explained why Gasparino was so upset with Friend and his signs.
On the ride to the police station, [Officer] Deems told Mr. Friend that he attracted police attention because he was “interfering with our livelihood.”
Deems explained to Mr. Friend that the cellphone sting was operated as an overtime assignment, funded by a federal grant which would require the Stamford police to issue a certain number of tickets in order for the grant to be renewed.
By warning motorists, Deems claimed, Mr. Friend was decreasing the number of tickets that the Stamford employees could issue, and therefore decreasing their chances of earning overtime on a cellphone sting grant in the future.
Seems like Officer Gasparino should have sued Friend for tortious interference rather than trash his signs, steal his phones, and book him on such a transparently bogus charge. Gasparino reiterated his belief that Friend’s actions were illegal interference with a business model, noting that officers were not “observing as many violations as they should be,” thanks to Friend’s “Cops Ahead” signs.
And because he’s a complete dick, Officer Gasparino set Friend’s bail at $25,000… for a misdemeanor interference charge. Friend remained in jail until 1:30 the next morning. He was released by the bail commissioner who immediately set Friend’s bail to $0.
But that didn’t stop the financial pain for Friend. He had to purchase a new phone later that day because his other phones were still being held by the Stamford PD.
Unbelievably, it took prosecutors to set this straight, during which the prosecution took a shot at Officer Gasparino’s “but muh revenue” assertions.
[W]hen Mr. Friend’s case was called, the prosecution entered a nolle prosequi and explained to the court that Mr. Friend’s signs “actually . . . help[ed] the police do a better job than they anticipated because when [drivers] saw the signs, they got off their cell phones.”
This is a master class on how to get sued, taught by Professor Gasparino. The taking of Friend’s signs raise both First and Fourth Amendment concerns. There’s the “shut up” part of it and the taking of someone’s property without cause, even if said property was nothing more than cardboard.
Then there’s the seizure of Friend’s phones — both done without cause. Even if the interference charge were credible (it isn’t), there’s simply no reason to believe the phones contained evidence of this crime. Any recordings that may have supported Gasparino’s assertions were ended by Gasparino himself before they could have captured any “obstructing.”
And finally, there’s the seizure of Friend himself. This might be the most difficult count to secure a win on, considering cops are given a whole lot of leeway to arrest people for crimes both real and imagined. The imagined ones tend to be tossed by prosecutors, but the courts have consistently held officers need only believe a law was violated to effect an arrest.
None of this looks good for Officer Gasparino. These allegations lay out a sadly-credible story of a cop using his power to harm someone who made his life a tiny bit more difficult. Gasparino twice overstepped his Constitutional bounds and followed it up by making sure Friend couldn’t just walk away from the stupidity by swinging a $25k bail hammer at him. This is adding injury to injury — not exactly a great move when you might find yourself being held legally responsible for the injury pile-on.