HARTFORD – Three Connecticut state police employees who were caught on camera appearing to prevent video recording and give baseless tickets to a protester have been ordered to stand trial. In a September 16 ruling, the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut turned aside John Barone, Patrick Torneo, and John Jacobi’s attempt to avoid a trial in a 2016 lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Connecticut on behalf of plaintiff Michael Picard. In the suit, Picard alleges that the three, then employed by the state police, violated his First Amendment right to free speech and Fourth Amendment right against warrantless seizure of his property when they detained him, confiscated his camera, and charged him with criminal infractions as he protested near a DUI checkpoint in West Hartford in 2015. The court has not yet set a trial date.
“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.
“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.”
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.
In footage that later became viral, with the camera rolling, the police appeared to: call a Hartford police officer to see if he had any “grudges” against Picard; open an investigation of him in the police database; and discuss a separate protest that they thought he had organized at the state capitol. After Barone announced “we gotta cover our ass,” either Torneo or Jacobi stated “let’s give him something,” and the three settled on two criminal infraction tickets that they issued to Picard. Those criminal charges were later dismissed.
Picard is represented by ACLU of Connecticut legal director Dan Barrett, ACLU of Connecticut staff attorney Elana Bildner, and Bristol attorney Joseph R. Sastre, who defended Picard against the criminal charges.
For the September 16 ruling sending the case to trial: https://www.acluct.org/sites/default/files/92_2019-09-16_memorandum_of_decision_on_cross_motions_for_sj.pdf
For the 2016 complaint filed in U.S. District Court: https://www.acluct.org/sites/default/files/wysiwyg/acluct_picard-v.-torneo-jacobi-barone-complaint.pdf
For footage of the incident: https://www.acluct.org/en/cases/picard-v-torneo-jacobi-barone