Report: No evidence troopers retaliated against protester
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut State Police internal affairs investigator found no evidence that three troopers retaliated against a protester at a sobriety checkpoint by filing bogus charges against him in an encounter recorded on video, according to a newly released report.
Lawyers for state police released the report Wednesday evening in response to public records laws complaints filed by The Associated Press and the Journal Inquirer newspaper after officials refused to provide the document earlier this year. The lawyers first agreed to hand over the report Tuesday just before a scheduled hearing before the state Freedom of Information Commission.
The investigation centered on an encounter at a sobriety checkpoint in West Hartford on Sept. 11, 2015, between protester Michael Picard and the officers — Trooper John Barone, Master Sgt. Patrick Torneo and Sgt. John Jacobi. Picard, who believes such checkpoints violate people’s rights, was holding a sign warning motorists.
Barone seized Picard’s camera and legally carried pistol after a frightened female driver told him there was a man waving a gun, the internal affairs report said. Barone gave the camera and gun back to Picard a short time later. Picard denies ever taking his gun out of his holster.
According to a lawsuit filed by Picard against the troopers, the officers did not know his camera was still recording after Barone seized it, and the footage captured the officers fabricating charges against him. Picard alleges he was illegally detained and his camera and gun were illegally seized.
The troopers are heard, but not seen, on Picard’s recording calling a Hartford police officer to see if he or she had any “grudges” against Picard, initiating an investigation of him in a police database and discussing a previous protest Picard organized, the lawsuit says. After finding that Picard had a valid pistol permit, Barone tells the other troopers they have to “cover” themselves, and either Torneo or Jacobi says “let’s give him something,” the lawsuit says.
Picard was given tickets for creating a public disturbance and illegal use of a highway by a pedestrian — charges that prosecutors later dropped.
Capt. Stavros Mellekas, a state police internal affairs investigator, wrote in the report that the troopers were justified in issuing the infractions, citing reports about Picard waving a gun and evidence that he illegally stood on a highway on-ramp. He exonerated them of allegations that their detention of Picard was illegal and that their conduct reflected negatively on state police.
Barone, who retired in September 2016, explained his comment about the troopers having to “cover” themselves in an interview with Mellekas.
“Barone explains that he was always trained that after an interaction where you put your hands on someone, a report or documented action (infraction or summons) should exist.”
The report also reveals, for the first time, that Barone “almost” shot Picard, as he aimed his gun at Picard and ordered him to show his hands.
All three troopers told Mellekas that Picard’s video was not a complete and accurate depiction because it was edited.
State police said in a statement Thursday that Picard “prolonged and impeded” the investigation by refusing to provide the unedited video.
Picard’s attorney, Joseph Sastre, declined to comment on the contents of the internal affairs report Thursday, citing the pending lawsuit.
“That they concluded the investigation by exonerating themselves should surprise nobody,” Sastre said.