Opinion writer

The ACLU of Connecticut has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Michael Picard, an activist who has protested and investigated DUI checkpoints, which he believes are wasteful and unconstitutional. Picard is also an open carry gun rights activist. In September 2015, Picard protested a DUI checkpoint in West Hartford by holding up a sign just before a checkpoint that read “cops ahead, remain silent.” There was nothing illegal about what he was doing.

ACLU of Connecticut Legal Director Dan Barrett describes what happened next:

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 …

The cops then searched Picard, and loudly announced that they had found a gun. This was nonsense, since Picard was openly carrying a gun from the start, which was legal under the state’s open carry law. As they ran a check on his permit, Picard picked up his camera. One cop then comes back over and tells Picard “taking my picture is illegal.” This is nonsense, and Picard, who knows his rights, begins debating with the officer. The cop then snatches the camera away and puts it on top of a police cruiser, not realizing that it’s still recording. Here’s the footage of what happens next:

Barrett summarizes:

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.

It took over a year for Picard to finally get the criminal charges dropped. He filed a complaint with the state police. It went nowhere, and in fact led to more harassment. That’s why he’s now suing.

Picard sounds like a he’s probably difficult to deal with. I’m sure it isn’t pleasant for police officers to interact with him. It doesn’t matter. It’s part of the job. A badge isn’t a license to frame someone on false charges because you find them annoying. Each of these cops should be fired. You could also make a convincing argument that they should be criminally charged.