Police Department Shells Out $50,000 To Man After His Camera Catches Cops Fabricating Criminal Charges Against Him

from the talking-themselves-into-a-lawsuit dept

The Connecticut State Police have agreed to pay $50,000 to a man its officers subjected to a bunch of Constitutional violations on their way to issuing tickets to him for violations he never committed.

Here’s a brief description of how this whole thing started:

On September 11, 2015, Picard was protesting near a police DUI checkpoint in West Hartford. One of the defendants, John Barone, approached him under the pretext of public complaints and confiscated Picard’s camera and lawfully carried pistol. Unbeknownst to the troopers, the camera was recording when Barone brought it to where co-defendants Patrick Torneo and John Jacobi were talking.

That’s just part of what happened before the recording the officers weren’t aware of captured them colluding to make up crimes to charge Michael Picard with.

There’s more detail in the opinion [PDF] the court handed down last fall, which gave the State Police notice its officers were unlikely to escape Picard’s lawsuit. One officer knocked Picard’s video camera to the ground. When he picked it up to continue recording the officers, one of them did something really stupid.

While defendants discussed plaintiff, plaintiff picked up his video camera off the ground and aimed it at the three defendants.

Barone then walked back to plaintiff. He grabbed plaintiff’s video camera and told him, “It’s illegal to take my picture.” Defendants have admitted that Barone “told plaintiff that it was illegal to take his picture without permission to do so;” and that Barone “secured” plaintiff’s camera.

Once they had it in their possession, the cops ignored the camera. This is important because they later argued they seized it because they thought it might be a gun. If they really thought the camera posed a threat to them, you’d think they would have examined the camera. But they didn’t.

If they had examined the camera, they might have noticed it was still recording. This is what the camera caught as it laid on top of the officers’ vehicle.

Torneo spoke by phone to Lieutenant Allan to determine whether plaintiff had any “grudges;” asked why plaintiff was challenging them at the DUI spot checks; and discussed plaintiff’s past demonstrations.

Defendants Torneo and Barone verified that plaintiff’s pistol permit was valid, that his gun was not stolen, and that there were no warrants for his arrest.

On the video camera recording, Barone can be heard stating, “punch a number on this or do what? Gotta cover our ass.” Torneo can be heard saying, “Let’s give him something,” and “then we claim in backup that we had multiple people stop and complain … but they didn’t want to stay and give a statement.”

Here’s the recording Picard’s camera made — one that captures officers colluding to create bogus criminal charges against a citizen.

Picard was charged with two criminal infractions. Both were dropped by the prosecutor. More importantly, the court refused to extend qualified immunity to these officers on Picard’s Fourth Amendment violation allegations. It also refused QI on Picard’s First Amendment retaliation claim. With three officers facing a jury trial, the State Police has decided to buy its way out of this using taxpayer money.

This incident shows why recording police officers isn’t just important, it’s necessary. While it may be difficult to record officers’ discussions once they’re back in their vehicle, having a recording device visible and present may deter cops from fabricating charges just because they don’t like the legal activity you’re engaged in. Officers are usually pretty careful to ensure their own illegal activity goes unrecorded, but it’s tough for them to control devices operated by citizens.

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Comments on “Police Department Shells Out $50,000 To Man After His Camera Catches Cops Fabricating Criminal Charges Against Him”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Given that they committed a federal felony, and convicted felons cannot be cops after they get out of prison, simple enforcement of the law would be all that is needed. The video creates all the probable cause needed for them to be arrested and prosecuted for that felony.

But oddly enough, the government rarely bothers prosecuting officials who are felons right in front of them when there are private citizens committing mere misdemeanors somewhere vaguely far away.


TRX says:

Re: Re:

Nah, they’ll just slime over to some other department and probably hire in at a higher pay level than they have now.

I find it interesting how many PDs will snap up new hires with multiple convictions on things that are likely to cause the PD trouble in the future… none of those slimeballs ever has a problem finding a new job as a cop.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I find it interesting how many PDs will snap up new hires with multiple convictions on things that are likely to cause the PD trouble in the future… none of those slimeballs ever has a problem finding a new job as a cop.

Less ‘interesting’ and more ‘telling’ I’d say, as it gives the strong impression that at best they are grossly negligent in background checks for people that are armed by default, they don’t consider that sort of behavior a problem, or worse they consider it a plus.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'And let that be a lesson to you!'

And of course the amount the three little thugs will personally pay will almost certainly be in the ‘zero to none’ range, giving them plenty of incentive to make sure to turn any cameras off next time they try to fabricate evidence.

… Or to leave them on and speak directly into the camera, because hey, either way not like it costs them anything, and at most they’ll probably face some teasing and wagged fingers from others in their department for botching the attempt to frame someone so badly.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

To be (possibly undeservedly) fair to cops here for a moment, there is another plausible explanation: most illegal searches that end up contested in court (and thus hear about) are either successful or incredibly intrusive/destructive, so we a disproportionate amount of the illegal searches we hear about found something.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I would have expected more cases of "wrecked my stuff after their four legged probable cause generator signaled on demand and didn’t even find anything and then refused to pay damages".

Self interest, basic math, and the desire to keep validity of questionable evidence would suggest just paying damages quickly but they are addicted to impunity.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
dickeyrat says:

Top-cop Billy Barr reminds us that, in Blump’s Neue Amerika, we must be made to RESPECT and HONOUR and SUBMIT TO these wonderful people in Uniform,as they valiantly protect us from deadly six-year olds throwing tantrums, and barking dogs and the like. These paid bullies have certainly earned their place at the top of the Amerikan Heap, as they each pull down their $100K+ per year to direct us lowly scum on how we should live out our miserable lives. Surely these worthy-some glorified security guards can come up with some punishable infraction against this unworthy plaintiff, for daring to (legally) challenge their Authori-tie & their noble attempt to fabricate charges in the original incident. I mean, The Nerve…!

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Bill Barr is a feudalist.

Attorney General Barr sees US law enforcement as the King’s Watch, who serves the king, and less directly protects his excellency’s vassals, typically from themselves.

Compare how antebellum US saw imported slaves, that they’d fight with each other senselessly until the their civilized white overlords intervened.

Alberticus says:

Under construction/development. Feel free to run with it, share, develop:
It is Time for a National Memorial to Citizen Victims .
Mandatory Law needed: The Abused Citizen Victim Apology Law:
Successful participation required for employment in any Law Enforcement position Nationwide.
Any time the police botch a raid on the wrong house, murder a Citizen for no cause, recklessly injure, kill, a Citizen, and other false arrests where their TAXPAYER FUNDED body-cameras "just happen" to not work, and every other screw-up situation ……. EVERY cop anywhere in the area shall assemble, "Take a Knee" and cover their hearts with their covers in apology. with their cars flashing lights ……………….. The same actions will take place for Citizen funerals.
They give themselves pseudo-religious-self-adoration ceremonies with flashing lights, genuflecting, and self-glorifying speeches at TAXPAYER expense…. and completely deny the victims of their ineptitude. That must end.
Have you noticed there are no massive funerals with TAXPAYER FUNDED police cars/equipment and TAXPAYER PAID police saluting for the VICTIMS of police MURDERS?
Where is the recognition and apologies to the VICTIMS of their CRIMES & BLUNDERING???
Since a police dog is considered an "officer", equal HONOR is due the hundreds of Family Pets these cowards murder every year? If a DOG is an "officer" then a DOG is also a HUMAN FAMILY MEMBER. If you can be charged for attacking a police dog then it is also MURDER when they shoot a Family Member.
A prominent memorial to be erected in every large city dedicated to the innocent victims of abusive and corrupt police. Annually, a day of reflection and regret. on date (May 26th?) to be determined, there will be a Citizen Victim Day whereupon EVERY cop will assemble at said monument to meditate and reflect on Murdered Citizens and again kneel, doff covers, and pray to God for forgiveness.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

But the prosecutors have real, tangible, and quite convincing evidence of these cops lying in order to frame an innocent person. Regardless of whether they persue a criminal case against the cops, shouldn’t they have to make the recording available in discovery in any cases involving them?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Upstream (profile) says:

Police departments, police unions, prosecutors, and state legislatures generally fight tooth and nail to keep police records of all types, particularly disciplinary records, secret. This despite many states having some form of "open records" law. And often police are not even disciplined for this type of outrageous behavior. Were it not for the camera, this particular situation would likely have resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of a completely innocent individual, and we would have never heard anything about it. Examples of this type (and other types) of police criminality abound. And the examples you can find with a quick Internet search are just cases where the cop(s) got caught and it made the news. This leaves us with the inescapable conclusion that this kind of thing happens far more often than is documented, and therefore far more often than most people realize, or are willing to admit.

The propaganda that we grew up with, that police are like Andy Griffith in Mayberry, is bunk, and likely always has been.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
DNY (profile) says:

Sunlight is the best disinfectant

Another case that commends for consideration a proposal I have made repeatedly: that each of the several states pass laws making the validity of police actions depend on the police having a working body camera with voice recording operating at the time of the action — if the officer’s camera is "broken" or not turned on, the ticket is void, the arrest invalid and the accused must be released, and neither sovereign nor qualified immunity applies in cases of use of force or rights violations. I’d allow exceptions for undercover police, but would require a court order for the undercover operation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sunlight is the best disinfectant

Really body cams should explicitly log all turn offs and be tamper evident and be very noisy about their remaining power time and percentages with policies about recharging or swapping body cams well before it should run out on even unexpected shift extensions. It should be on the officer to justify any gaps – the only acceptable excuse should be the camera being destroyed by the suspect which itself should be captured or otherwise collaborated by evidence. Lacking proof of "enemy action" all adverse inferences should be made. So much as a bruise on a stumbling drunkard taken as proof of assault.

Bodu cameras would be a good use case for non-removable batteries – to prevent any "accidents".

David says:

Re: Re: As always...

The premise is not true. Of course there are good law enforcement officers. The conclusion, though, is. Because the consequences of trusting a non-deserving law enforcement officers can be so much more severe than not trusting a deserving one, there is no point in trusting someone unless you have a high probability of that trust being deserved.

I mean, that’s why we have a profession of law enforcement rather than vigilant patrols in the first place.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "vigilant patrols"

That is often how we get street gangs: Someone is mugging or burglarizing in the community. Some select eager-for-violence form a posse to take care of the problem. Street gangs tend to be brutal. They often get the wrong guy. They’ll also go after people inconsistently, and for petty crimes (like being the wrong color or having a weird dialect or being related to an outcast family).

Also if the vigilante squad goes after a vengeful family, well, it could escalate into an open war.

The advantage of having an official state gang is it can be tightly regulated to function according to a strict protocol and adhere to a strict code of ethics, that way due process is ensured to make sure the wrong guy isn’t shot. Punishments are in proportion to crime. They’re not allowed to beat confessions out of suspects, and so on.

…until the police stop functioning under those codes, and are killing people with impunity, and seizing whatever pleases them, and not really restoring peace to the community at all. At that point one has to wonder how they’re different from a street gang and why taxes go to pay for their salaries and uniforms.

It also presents a great opportunity for organized crime to move in with a protection racket, that is if their prices are reasonable, and the mobster enforcers provide their service with more consideration than the precincts.

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Really Organize Groups Stalking these pigs says:

cameras are a two way lense/street

To catch pigs doing bad shit, we must arm our cell phones(and computers) to implicate them.

Evidence is a two way street, and their are ways to ensure that we get free passage as citizens.

Unfortunately, in the modern world, EVERYDAY interactions require us to be prepared to ENTRAP the ENTRAPPERS, in every web context.

Kudos to the film maker!

David says:

How is this not extortion?

Mind you, I have no problems with the wrongly accused person not taking a financial hit from having to defend themselves from a fabricated charge.

But that the culrpits can just cash themselves out of accountability, or rather worse, have the taxpayers pay the bill on their behalf, is a mockery. While admittedly this is independent from a criminal charge (and independent from firing the officers, really a necessary consequence here since officers fabricating evidence are subverting rather than enforcing the law), a successful civil suit would make it harder for the DA to cover their eyes and sing "la-la-la, I didn’t see anything".

"I was witness to a crime committed by law enforcement officers, so I am entitled to hush money from the taxpayer" — that just doesn’t seem like advancing the rule of law.

DB (profile) says:

A quick search reveals that the officers were ‘exonerated’ by their own department, with the decision happening in late 2017.

A state police internal affairs investigator concluded there was "no evidence" to support an activist’s claim that three troopers conspired to concoct charges against him during a contentious interaction at a DUI checkpoint in 2015.

They appear to have ignored that criminal charges were filed against the activist, only to be later dropped as unsupported.

It took over four years of legal action before a trial was scheduled. It is very likely that cost more than $50K of legal effort, with part of it handled by the ACLU.

They were only caught because they were unlucky. Without the accidental recording no one in the justice system would have believed Michael Picard. Even with the recording the department claimed that they saw nothing wrong with what happened. This is hardly a happy-ending story.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: 'The sky is blue.' 'I don't like blue, so no it's not.'

A state police internal affairs investigator concluded there was "no evidence" to support an activist’s claim that three troopers conspired to concoct charges against him during a contentious interaction at a DUI checkpoint in 2015.

Just… let that sink in. There was literally video with audio of them doing exactly that, charges were brought, and the department claimed otherwise in order to let the three goons off the hook of any punishment.

As if anyone needed any more proof of how utterly and completely corrupt the US police are, and what a farce it is to have the police investigate their own.

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