Hartford, CT — On September 11, 2015, journalist and police accountability activist, Michael Picard was illegally detained for lawfully open carrying and filming police on public property. During the illegal detainment, Connecticut state troopers confiscated his gun and his camera. However, the trooper who took the phone went on to make a critical mistake -- he left the camera rolling while conspiring with fellow officers to falsely charge Picard. In 2017, it was revealed by the department that they investigated themselves and found they did nothing wrong when they conspired to frame an innocent man.
“They were exonerated,” police union attorney Mark Dumas said. “The troopers didn’t do anything wrong. They were doing their jobs, and they do an excellent job.”
Apparently this "excellent job" consisted of trampling the rights of an innocent person and conspiring to have them kidnapped and locked in a cage. Sure thing, Dumas.
Now, because the system failed to hold the officers accountable, the case is now a civil matter and the troopers involved have been ordered to stand trial in the civil suit brought on by the ACLU of Connecticut. The taxpayers, not the officers will be the ones to pay for the crimes.
The Free Thought Project spoke to the ACLU via email this week, who issued the following statement on the case.
“The Constitution is clear: people have a right to protest the police, and people have a right against police taking their property from them without a warrant,” said ACLU of Connecticut legal director Dan Barrett, who is representing Picard in the lawsuit. “The evidence, including video, will show that these police employees were more concerned with covering up their bad behavior, undermining free speech, and retaliating against a protester than with upholding the law. We look forward to getting justice for Michael in front of the jury.”
We agree. TFTP also spoke to Picard, who told us the following.
“People have the right to protest, including the right to protest police, without ticketing or retaliation against them. I am deeply disappointed that these police ignored my rights, and I am hopeful that the court will hold them accountable so that no one else has to experience what I did,” said Picard.
As TFTP reported at the time, on that September night, Picard and a friend were on public property and warning drivers of a DUI checkpoint ahead. They were several hundred yards from the checkpoint and not interfering at all when troopers drove up, without lights on, and against the flow of traffic, to begin harassing the two gentlemen.
Trooper First Class John Barone, Sergeant John Jacobi, and Trooper Jeff Jalbert falsely claimed that Picard was waving his gun around and pointing it at people. However, Picard was holding a sign the entire time and did not touch his gun. Also, as you will see below, the officers admit that they were lying.
“Police should be focused on public safety, not punishing protesters and those who film public employees working on a public street,” said ACLU-CT legal director Dan Barrett, who is representing Picard in the lawsuit. “As the video shows, these police officers were more concerned with thwarting Mr. Picard’s free speech and covering their tracks than upholding the law.”
Had Picard actually been waving a gun, these troopers would have approached the situation in an entirely different manner, with guns drawn and possible SWAT backup. However, they did no such thing, because there was clearly no threat from the activists.
The fact that there was no threat did not stop the subsequent assault, however.
Two troopers approached Picard while forcefully removing his gun and then grabbing his camera, falsely claiming it is illegal to film. When Picard informs the officer can legally film here, the officer ignorantly asserts that "It's illegal to take my picture. Personally, it is illegal."
"Did you get any documentation that I am allowing you to take my picture"? asks the cop.
When Picard attempts to explain to the aggressive officer that he doesn't need a permit because he is on public property, the trooper then makes the asinine declaration that, "No I'm not (on public property). I'm on state property. I'm on state property."
State-owned roadways and right of ways are public property. The trooper's assertion that it is illegal to film on his 'state property' was entirely false and in violation of Connecticut Bill No. 245, which "protects the right of an individual to photograph or video record peace officers in the performance of their duties."
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All this aggressive and unlawful behavior of these troopers, however, was about to come back to haunt them. After illegally confiscating the camera -- the trooper forgot to stop it from recording.
What happened next was a behind the scenes glimpse of what it looks and sounds like when cops lie to charge innocent people with crimes.
The corruption starts as an unidentified trooper begins to search for anything that these gentlemen may have done to make up charges against them. However, they were clean. At this point, Trooper first class Barone chimes in describing how they now have to charge these men with something to justify their harassment and subsequent detainment.
"Want me to punch a number on this? Gotta cover our ass," explains the trooper as they begin conspiring.
"Let's give him something," says an unidentified trooper, pondering the ways they can lie about this innocent man.
"What are they going to do? Are they going to do anything?" says Sergeant Jacobi, noting that they are entirely innocent.
"It's legal to do it," he continues,describing how the actions of the two activists are completely legal, before going on to make up charges on them.
"I think we do simple trespass, we do reckless use of the highway and creating a public disturbance," Jacobi says as he makes up these false charges against innocent people. "All three are tickets."
Once they figure out the false charges to raise, the officers then brainstorm a story of lies to back them up.
"And then we claim that, um, in backup, we had multiple, um," the unidentified trooper stutters as he makes up his fake story. "Um, they (the non-existent complainants) didn't want to stay and give us a statement, so we took our own course of action."
The corrupt cops had then solved their fake case, lied about a cover story, and were set to charge an innocent man with three crimes -- all in a day's work.
But there was just one more thing.... "Oh s**t!" blurts out the cop as he realizes their entire scandalous corrupt conversation was just recorded. Apparently, however, the officer felt that it must not have recorded their conversation as the phone was returned.
The cops then gave the innocent man back his weapon, and it's back to the DUI checkpoint for them -- to harass and detain more innocent people.
Picard explained that all of the troopers involved in his unlawful situation were never disciplined and allowed to progress through the ranks, with some of them retiring. Picard explains:
Trooper First Class John Barone, the trooper who said it was illegal for me to record him, seized my camera and recorded himself saying, “We gotta cover our ass,” is now retired and collecting a pension thanks to the taxpayers.
Sergeant John Jacobi is now retired and collecting a pension thanks to the taxpayers.
Master Sergeant Patrick Torneo, the trooper who said “let’s give him something,” and then helped fabricate a story to charge me, was demoted for reportedly driving drunk, but is now a lieutenant.
Lieutenant Stavros Mellekas, who conducted the internal affairs “investigation” and found that the troopers did nothing wrong, was magically promoted four ranks, and is now second in command of the Connecticut State Police.
All troopers are being represented by the attorney general’s office and their defense is being paid for by the taxpayers.
This is justice in the land of the free.