U.S.A. –-(AmmoLand.com)- On 11 September 2015, Liberty Activist Michael Picard was protesting a Connecticut speed trap when he was accosted, his property illegally seized, and three Connecticut State Troopers conspired to violate his rights and charge him with disturbing the peace. This correspondent wrote about the situation in 2016. Here is how Picard described the situation back then.
Here are the words of Michael Picard:
Back on Friday, September 11th, 2015, in West Hartford, CT, I was illegally detained, frisked and searched, and my gun, permit and camera were seized, I was threatened with arrest for interfering (apparently, freedom of speech passes for interfering), and the Connecticut State Police fabricated a story, on camera, to trump up the charges because they needed to charge me with something (“Let’s give him something.”) to cover their ass (“Gotta cover our ass.”), charging me with “creating a public disturbance” for legally open carrying my firearm and “negligent pedestrian” for legally holding up a sign on public property, as well as being threatened with arrest (again) if I did not pay the fine. I was detained for 40 minutes and charged for nothing more than legally open carrying and holding up a sign on public property. I never touched my gun once and I am a legal gun owner. My lawyer and I went to the first court appearance back on Thursday, January 14th, 2016, where the prosecutor offered a $25 fine, in lieu of the original $300 fine, to make the case go away. I rejected the deal because I did nothing wrong. As of now, the prosecutor has not dropped the case despite having video evidence of police misconduct. The trial date has been set for Monday, April 25th, 2016, at 9:30am, at the New Britain courthouse (20 Franklin Sq., New Britain, CT).
Picard filed a lawsuit against the State Troopers on 15 September 2016.
All three officers involved in the incident have retired after being cleared by Internal affairs. From ctinsider.com:
Barone, who is now retired, and the other two state police troopers, Patrick Torneo and John Jacobi, now also retired, were exonerated of any wrongdoing by a state police internal affairs investigation, the lawsuit said.
Picard sued in 2016 claiming the encounter violated his First Amendment free speech rights and Fourth Amendments rights against the unlawful seizure of property. A federal court judge agreed in September to allow the Fourth Amendment portion of the lawsuit to move forward to a trial.
Over three years after the lawsuit was filed, on January 21, 2020, there was a settlement. Michael Picard settled for $50,000. From acluct.org:
Complete video footage of the incident, as gathered by Picard’s camera while it was on top of Torneo’s cruiser and with closed captioning added, is available here [warning: this link will take you to YouTube, a third-party website].
In 2020, the lawsuit was settled. According to the settlement agreement, the State of Connecticut agreed to pay Picard approximately $1,800 for every minute that the defendants detained him (a total of $50,000), in exchange for his dismissing the lawsuit.
“In a free society, it is normal and necessary for people to protest the government, including police. If police violate people’s fundamental right to peacefully protest, those police employees should be held accountable. In addition to the human costs of poor police behavior, there can also be financial costs for taxpayers. I hope my story sends a message to police departments that they cannot ignore the constitution without consequences,” said Picard after the settlement.
While the officers involved may have been concerned about the lawsuit, they were cleared by internal affairs, in spite of the evidence against them. They suffered little personal loss. After five years of litigation, one can only wonder how much of the $50,000 went to Picard’s lawyer fees and court costs.
There may be a cumulative, positive, effect. In November of 2018, Basel Soukaneh was stopped, arrested, and searched in Waterbury, Connecticut. He filed a lawsuit for violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.
On 6 August 2021, the United States District Court, District of Columbia, ruled the officer did not have qualified immunity in the incident. The court case has been covered in a recent AmmoLand article.
Police are being shown, by the courts, an armed citizen is not a legal cause for them to violate citizens’ rights. Much of the positive effect can be attributed to the digital revolution and the ubiquity of recording devices.
Police in cities, in the United States, has a long history of being enforcers for the political bosses of their city.
About Dean Weingarten:
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.