A new citizen videotape has triggered an internal police investigation of Connecticut State troopers who are heard discussing charges for Michael Picard, 27, who was warning citizens of a DUI checkpoint. One of the officers is heard to say “we gotta cover our asses.” The officers are also heard threatening the citizen recording them. The police union has said that the officers acted appropriately.
Picard was standing near a state police DUI enforcement checkpoint near the on-ramp to I-84 on Park Road at about 7 p.m. holding a sign that read “Cops ahead. Keep calm and remain silent.” The troopers are shown discussing any possible charges to levy against Picard.
Picard is first told that it is illegal to record the troopers. The videotape is another example of the value of videotape in the proving of police abuse. We have been following the continuing abuse of citizens who are detained or arrested for filming police in public. (For prior columns, click here and here). Despite consistent rulings upholding the right of citizens to film police in public, these abuses continue.
When Picard objects that he is allowed to tape officers, he is told that he is on “state property.” That would seem a highly questionable claim that treats public property as state property for the purpose of banning citizen videotaping. One officer identified as Trooper First Class John Barone is captured in this exchange:
“It is illegal to take my picture,” Barone told him. “Personally, it’s illegal.”
“No, it isn’t,” Picard told him.
“Did you get any documentation I’m allowing you to take my picture?”
“No, but you’re on public property,” Picard told him. “You have no expectation of pri ….”
“No, I’m not,” Barone responded. “I’m on state property. I’m on state property.”
The officer is then heard asking the other officers “Want me to punch a number on this? We gotta cover our asses.” One responds “Let’s give him something.” The police then confront Picard about his possession of gun, but Picard explains that he has an open carry permit. He was detained for 40 minutes to check that claim but then given citations for other crimes.
The officers appear to be working out the possible crime theory with one saying “I think we do simple trespass, we do reckless use of the highway and creating a public disturbance.” Another says “and then we claim, um, in backup we had multiple people, um, they didn’t want to stay and give us a statement, so we took our own course of action.”
When Picard got to court on his $178 ticket, a prosecutor offered to nullify the charges if he paid a $25 fine. He refused. However, critics say that the purpose of the citation had already served its purpose: to stop a citizen from exercising his right to both protest and videotape police. It further imposed a penalty in making him appear in court and fight the citations.
Here is the videotape posted on YouTube:
What do you think? If you believe that the officers were manufacturing charges, what is the appropriate punishment for the officers?