Police Accidentally Record Themselves Conspiring to Fabricate Criminal Charges Against Protester

The ACLU of Connecticut is suing state police for fabricating retaliatory criminal charges against a protester after troopers were recorded discussing how to trump up charges against him. In what seems like an unlikely stroke of cosmic karma, the recording came about after a camera belonging to the protester, Michael Picard, was illegally seized by a trooper who didn’t know that it was recording and carried it back to his patrol car, where it then captured the troopers’ plotting.

“Let’s give him something,” one trooper declared. Another suggested, “we can hit him with creating a public disturbance.” “Gotta cover our ass,” remarked a third.

ACLU affiliates around the country have done a lot of cases defending the right to record in public places, but this case (press release, complaint) is particularly striking. I spoke to ACLU of Connecticut Legal Director Dan Barrett, and he told me about how the incident came about:

Our client is a guy who is very concerned with privacy, and who protests DUI checkpoints around the capital region here in Hartford, Connecticut. He feels they’re both unconstitutional and a waste of money. He has done public records investigations, for example, and recently found that for every two man hours put into a check point, it yields just one minor traffic citation—almost always for defective equipment. He was well known to the police, who also knew that he is a peaceful privacy and open-carry gun rights activist.

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So Michael was out on Sept. 11, 2015 in West Hartford. He shows up, has a big sign that says “cops ahead, remain silent.” It’s handwritten—this is not threatening stuff. He stood on a small triangular traffic island. He was standing there for an hour, hour and a half without any problems. Then, the state police officers who were working the checkpoint come over to Michael, and the first thing they do is slap the camera out of his hand so it hits the ground. He thinks it’s broken.

It was really brazen. There’s another video showing that the first thing the state trooper does is walk up and with his open hand slap the camera down to the ground. He doesn’t even say anything like “put that down,” or “please lower your camera.” He just slaps it to the ground. Then he interacts with Michael as if nothing happened, as if, “I’m just allowed to do that, and I don’t even have to tell you why I just broke your camera.” It’s an amazing level of hostility.

The troopers search Michael, and theatrically announce that he has a gun—which they knew he had, and which he was carrying legally under Connecticut’s open carry law. So they take his gun, and they go run his pistol permit. As they’re doing that, Michael picks the camera up off the pavement—it’s a nice SLR that can also record video. He picks it up and tries to turn it on as one of the cops walks back over, and that’s where the video starts. The cop announces that “taking my picture is illegal.” Michael debates with him a little because he’s very knowledgeable about the law and the First Amendment, and the end result is that the trooper snatches the camera, walks away, and puts it on top of the cruiser, without realizing that it is working and is recording video.

This is the point at which the troopers’ accidental self-surveillance begins. Barrett continues:

So we get the three troopers at the cruiser talking about what to do. Michael’s permit comes back as valid, they say “oh crap,” and one of the troopers says “we gotta punch a number on this guy,” which means open an investigation in the police database. And he says “we really gotta cover our asses.” And then they have a very long discussion about what to charge Michael with—none of which appear to have any basis in fact. This plays out over eight minutes. They talk about “we could do this, we could do this, we could do this….”

In Connecticut, police officers have clear requirements under the law to intervene and stop or prevent constitutional violations when they see them. But at no time did any of the three officers pipe up and say, “why don’t we just give him his camera back and let him go.”

In the end they decide on two criminal infractions: “reckless use of a highway by a pedestrian,” and “creating a public disturbance.” They have a chilling discussion on how to support the public disturbance charge, and the top-level supervisor explains to the other two, “what we say is that multiple motorists stopped to complain about a guy waving a gun around, but none of them wanted to stop and make a statement.” In other words, what sounds like a fairy tale.

The tickets they gave him started a criminal prosecution in the Connecticut superior court. Eventually the state dismissed first one then the other count, though it took a whole year for him to disentangle himself from the criminal justice system.

Meanwhile, Michael filed a complaint with the state police. They claimed they couldn’t do their internal investigation without interviewing Michael. They kept calling Michael directly—and they did that even though there were criminal charges pending and Michael had a criminal defense lawyer. His lawyer kept calling them and saying “don’t you ever call my client again, you have to talk to me.” But they continued to try and get Michael to come in and be interviewed without his lawyer, claiming that they couldn’t do the investigation unless Michael gave a statement. It was unbelievable—this is an interaction that was recorded from start to finish on high-quality digital video. A year later there has been zero movement on the internal affairs investigation as far as anyone knows, which just shows that police and prosecutors in Connecticut should not be in charge of policing themselves.

As a result of the police’s clear inability to police themselves, the only avenue left for Picard and the ACLU of Connecticut is a lawsuit. That lawsuit is based on three claims, as Barrett laid out for me:

The first claim is the violation of Michael’s right to record—the efforts to prevent Michael from recording what was happening. That includes the fact that they swatted his camera and attempted to break it, and took it away, and they also tried to block him from taking photos of the license plates on the police cruiser using his cell phone after his camera was taken.

The second count is a Fourth Amendment claim: the seizure of Michael’s camera without probable cause to believe that it contained evidence of a crime, or a warrant for its seizure. The police cannot grab people’s property and confiscate it on a whim.

The third is a First Amendment retaliation claim. Whether it was because he was carrying a sign criticizing the police, because he was recording the police, because they just didn’t like him, or all of the above, it really appears from the evidence that they completely manufactured criminal charges against Michael.

If Michael had been just jotting down license plate numbers with a pen and pad and the troopers had taken it, or slapped the pen out of his hand saying “you’re not allowed to write down our license plate numbers,” everyone would recognize how ridiculous the situation was. And if the defendants had been any other kind of state or local employee—if they had been a road crew, and Michael had wanted to film them paving, and they had forced him to stop recording, their actions wouldn’t get any serious consideration by a court. Nothing about the defendants here being police makes their actions any more defensible. All Michael was doing was recording state employees doing their jobs on a public street.

The really interesting thing about this case is not just that the state troopers were so openly hostile to being recorded, or to anyone seeing what they were up to, but also that they appear to have had a very frank discussion inside the cruiser about how to punish somebody who was protesting them.

It’s surprising that we are still regularly hearing about incidents in which police are not respecting the constitutional right to record in public. But to hear police officers casually discussing the fabrication of criminal charges to retaliate against a protester is even more shocking. As Barrett put it to me, “It’s one of those things that on your darker days you may think happens all the time, but you never really thought there’d be a video recording of.”

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Anonymous

Lets be clear .. this is the SOP for every police department and even the FBI inevery state and every town. Law enforcement has no duty to protect or serve and are basically low IQ emotional train wrecks without a command and control or civil rights knowledge.

This will never change until there is all out war against tyranny and low IQ BS.

Immunity needs to be repealed and the hiring of higher IQ staff should commence immediately!

Anonymous

Unfortunately, I must disagree - not in the sense that abuse isn't common, but on this:

"Law enforcement has no duty to protect or serve and are basically low IQ emotional train wrecks without a command and control or civil rights knowledge."

First of all, let me get this out of the way: Like many, you have a great misunderstanding of what "IQ" actually means, and I feel compelled for everyone's sake to share this information, as it's rather eye-opening! The truth is that IQ means very little, other than "how well you do on an IQ test"; IQ tests have nothing to do with knowledge of things like the law, and everything to do with basic skills that are required to do well in scholastic areas. The so-called "intelligence quotient" test was designed to measure students' ability to keep up with their peers in class and indeed, this is why it is frequently the subject of adjustment, to compensate for variance in the population - 100 is always "average" IQ, the "you need to try and be this good at these things or better to be up with your peers in your age group" mark, but believe it or not, what is a 100 IQ score today would be higher for people of a few decades ago! Actual "IQ" has been going up and the test has had to be made harder with a fair amount of consistency! Yes, even for groups that are often maligned as supposedly being "genetically stupider" (blacks and Latinx - who of course, do not do as well on the tests not because of genetics, but because they're much more likely to be in families that are working poor; if you adjust for economic privilege, access to things like childcare, parental availability, and school funding, the differences become negligible. And accounting for the steady increase in "average" IQ, they ARE actually getting "smarter" at IQ tests at the same rate as everyone else!). IQ can predict how well you do in school and thus is a reasonable barometer for your access to a lot of things that mark one as a "success", such as higher education or a better job opportunity based on education, but, it has nothing to do with decision-making power or, most especially, nothing to do with impulsivity ("emotional train wrecks"). Plenty of ADHD people have high IQs. Plenty of people, including George W. Bush (who once tested as a 138 IQ - supposed "genius" level!), have really high IQ test scores and yet are infamous for poor decisions and impulsive responses to situations (there have literally been entire books written about Dubya's verbal gaffes, but one of the less-funny ones would be referring to the Iraq War as a "crusade" - given that it involved going into a Muslim country, this was highly ill-advised. On a less-serious note, there's always the "is our children learning?" quote, which is a lot more harmlessly funny). IQ has literally nothing to do with how "real-world" smart you are, and only applies to scholastic abilities, is what I'm saying. Which probably says something about what our schools are actually "preparing" us for, but that's a whole other bag of cats.

The second, more important issue I have with this statement though, is the idea that cops do not have "civil rights knowledge". This is horrifically false, actually; I refer you to the book "Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide For Writers" by Lee Lofland (Lee Lofland is or was a police detective, and the book is a thorough examination of police work that includes policemen's internal culture. It's an excellent resource).

Read that book, particularly the section on what it's like to go through Police Academy, for an eye-opening revelation - cops who have a full-fledged badge and gun (i.e. not the people who are just trainees early in their career)? They have NO EXCUSE for acting in this way, as they are supposed to come right out of the Academy with GOOD knowledge of things like search and seizure laws and what they can and cannot do, particularly without a warrant. What's more, cops are supposed to regularly get re-informed at seminars as to what their vs. the public's rights are!

Cops like this KNOW what they're doing is wrong; these kinds of cops know EXACTLY what they are doing, and they're still doing it! If they didn't, they could not possibly have passed all of the testing on such knowledge that they are REQUIRED to undergo to pass Police Academy. And there's only so many chances they get on a given set of tests, mind you, before they're summarily fired (you have to be hired to be a cop before attending Academy, as the Academy is paid for by the department/state, but if you flunk any part of it, you get dismissed from your employment) - they would not be on the job, in other words, if they had not shown a basic "command of civil rights knowledge" regarding things like the First and Fourth Amendments, because they are literally required to do so to graduate the Police Academy, at any given Academy in the United States. So it should be particularly galling to EVERYONE that they are so brazenly violating the letter and spirit of the law in this way, because they literally, LITERALLY know better, or they wouldn't be a cop!

Unfortunately, another aspect of police culture is made very obvious by Mr Lofland's book, and that is that it is basically a "paramilitary" (his own word, no less!) group, with a militaristic structure composed of people who have gone through the equivalent of Boot Camp and have been heavily trained and conditioned to respond to "threats" of various kinds (training understandably focuses mostly on restraint, self defense, pursuit, and capture techniques as well as on weaponry usage both lethal and "non"-lethal e.g. tasers and OC Spray - comparatively little sounds like it is applied to learning and internalizing conflict de-escalation techniques, compared to learning and internalizing combat techniques). Worse yet - and here is the real rub - because of this structure, and the way Police Academies understandably teach their students to rely on each other as soldiers would in war, police tend to have a 'band of brothers' mentality, an internal cohesiveness that is great for them, but probably a lot less so when "a few bad apples" start acting up but nobody wants to do anything because they're their buddies on the "front line", or because they refuse to believe that a fellow cop could really be "that bad". Excuses get made, coverups happen, cops rush to the defense, claiming "you don't know what it's like out there!", somebody calls another cop or cops in general something like "pigs" and then it's all "blue lives matter!" and this is how we get far too much separation between the civilians, and the increasingly militarized police force that doesn't want to admit it has problems, or that the problems it does have are anything serious.

It is VERY easy for cops to turtle up and take the "with us or against us" position, because they've been freaking conditioned to assume (mind you, not ENTIRELY incorrectly) that they are always under possible attack, and conditioned on top of that to "rely on each other" and have each other's back. This is why cop dramas frequently show Internal Affairs as being loathed...and why real-world IA officials are often reluctant to do their actual jobs. Because they're still cops themselves, and the idea of "ruining another cop's career" is something they're often loath to do.

Hell, another statistic for you that's chilling: officers who are POC are not only no less likely to arrest or shoot at people of color than white officers, they're apparently MORE inclined to do so, and the obvious reason why that jumps to mind is that having committed to the police as an all-encompassing life path, they do not want to make themselves outcasts within their own ranks by seeming to side with or go easy on 'the enemy' based on other shared traits (which is why the one or two black cops we've seen speak up against police abuse are SO important and incredibly brave, because that is a kind of social conditioning/fear that is really hard to break or go against. They're damn good people, to stand up for actual justice in the face of potentially being seen as 'traitors' to the cop ranks.)

This is why EXTERNAL investigations (such as that by the DOJ of Baltimore's police department, that showed horrific racial biases endemic to their system) are so important and why recording of police is also extremely important: when you have a group that is primarily trained as warriors and have been conditioned for internal group cohesiveness, yet are being entrusted with enforcing the law, somebody needs to "watch the watchmen" to make sure it doesn't get out of hand. And the last people who should be doing that in a lot of cases, are fellow cops, because they themselves have undergone the same conditioning. Not to say they NEVER do anything, but it's usually over something so obviously and egregiously bad that it's kind of at the point where something should have been done sooner, as we can see from the fact that so few police brutality/excessive force cases - which are often perpetrated by cops who have a history of going too far - result in prosecution, let alone actual convictions. (The same can be said, by the way, of local prosecutors; they often work with cops, so they have to develop a camaraderie with them, and see cops as being "on their side". They're often reluctant to go after the same people who help them win their cases, and as such it's probably the case that external prosecutors should be used for such police abuse cases, though they rarely are)

tldr IQ has nothing to do with it and even the dumbest cop KNOWS what search and seizure laws really cover, probably inside and out. This is NOT about training or knowledge, they have that knowledge, they're just refusing to use it. This is about key individual cops' selfish choices, and a general "with us or against us" attitude that the militaristic structure of modern police organizations in the USA fosters, that lets them get away with it regularly and to some extent, in some departments at least, probably actively encourages it, since, you know "with us or against us".

Anonymous

Let's be real, they don't pay police officers enough to draw a large number of higher IQ individuals to their ranks. Between teachers, police and the firefighters, they get little for what is required of them. If you want their integrity to remain intact, they need to be compensated properly. That's no excuse for this kind of behavior mind you, but the first step to fixing the overall problem in these fields is wage increase. You get what you pay for. As a society, you'd think safety and education would be at the top of the list.

Anonymous

They don't become cops because they're smart, they become cops because they're sadists and bullies.

Anonymous

The reason black cops are more likely to shoot suspects than white cops is simple. Big cities tend to have a higher percentage of black cops than rural areas and small towns. Big cities also have a much higher rate of violent crime, especially in the inner city. Take minnesota for an example, a cop in out state MN is working in an area with about 1 murder per every 100,000 people; in Minneapolis the cop is working in an area with 10 to 15 murders per every 100,000 people. The minneapolis cop is more likely to encounter violent criminals and more likely to assume people are violent because if that.

Anonymous

To the reply: for having a whole lot to say, not a lot of it was true. I have personally known cops in 5 cities, only one of which required academy in Oklahoma. The other 4 required a GED and, shocker, an iq test. My sister took the one in my current city, and her friend who did the hiring told her to be careful, they wouldn't hire her if she scored too high, the commissioner didn't like "nerds" on the force, they "cause too many problems". And of those 5 cops I know personally? One of them is a fine, upstanding fellow. The rest are wife abusing psychopaths who were bullies on school and are now bullies in uniforms.

Anonymous

The thing that blows my mind is that so many people think this is something new. Folks, this has been going on for generations. Hell, my own Grandfather told stories of abuses and cover-ups!

Anonymous

Nobody thinks it's new. It's exactly because it has been going on forever that we're so upset.

Anonymous

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Anonymous

We could use a Sam Vimes, thats for sure.

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