The ACLU of Connecticut has brought a lawsuit against state police as a direct result of this video, which shows police accidentally recording themselves as they casually discussed what charges they could bring against a protester. Oddly enough, their method of recording was the protester’s camera, which they confiscated in what could be a Fourth Amendment violation. Prior to his arrest, Michael Picard was protesting near a DUI checkpoint on public property (a traffic island).
On the ACLU’s website, Connecticut Legal Director Dan Barrett lays out the background of Picard, who is “well-known to the police” and is a “peaceful privacy and open-carry gun rights activist.” On the night of September 11, 2015, an officer slapped Picard’s camera out of his hand. The officer believes it’s broken, and Barrett describes what happened:
“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.”
Troopers search Picard, who — again — is an open-carry activist who is well known by area police. They find his gun and announce it, and then they run his gun license. Barrett continues to narrate what happens:
“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.'”
At that point, the officers engage in an eight-minute discussion over what charges they could possibly level against Picard. Officers are overheard musing, “We could do this, we could do this, we could do this…” As Barrett points out, they could have just let Picard leave with his camera, but that didn’t happen:
“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.”
A court dropped both of Picard’s charges, but he and the ACLU of Connecticut have brought a lawsuit, which is based upon three claims, including a Fourth Amendment claim for the seizure of the camera and a First Amendment retaliation claim. Picard believes the charges were manufactured against him simply because he was protesting. Barrett marvels over the situation: “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.”