Police Abuse

Police Won't Say Whether Cops Caught Fabricating Charges Were Disciplined

Citing state laws and union contracts

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scoutnurse/flickr

In Hartford, Connecticut, three state troopers stopped Michael Picard at a sobriety checkpoint in 2015, confiscating his pistol, pistol permit, and camera, according to a lawsuit Picard has now filed. The troopers also told him (falsely) that recording them was illegal, but they weren't aware the camera was continuing to record after they took it.

On the video, they can reportedly be heard calling a local cop to ask if they had any "grudges" against Picard, who they knew to have organized a previous protest at the state capitol. After learning that the permit was valid, one of the troopers told the other two they had to "cover" themselves, and another responded, "Let's give him something."

Picard received a ticket for illegal use of a highway by a pedestrian and creating a public disturbance. Both charged were thrown out in court.

Nearly two years after the incident, the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection refuses to say whether the three troopers—John Barone, John Jacobi, and Patrick Torneo—were disciplined for their actions. The department, which oversees the state police, cited state privacy laws and the state police's union contract to reject media requests for a copy of the investigative report and findings. The Associated Press has appealed to the state's Freedom of Information Commission.

This kind of obfuscatory use of privacy laws and union contract provisions is, sadly, nothing new. In some states, even prosecutors can't learn about dirty cops. Police reform activists associated with Black Lives Matter launched a project, Check the Police, that tracks union contracts at many of the country's largest law enforcement agencies. Most have provisions that make accountability more difficult—by preventing past misconduct investigations from being retained in personnel files, for example, or disqualifying complaints that are submitted too long after an incident.

New York City has treated personnel records the same way since the de Blasio administration decided to reinterpret a decades-old state privacy law. That didn't stop the deputy commissioner of intelligence there from claiming the NYPD is the "most transparent municipal police department in the world."

As recently as 2015, the police chief of Fairfield, Connecticut, claimed that any citizen could request police personnel and disciplinary files, telling WNYC that open records have improved accountability in his department. The state police should follow suit. Laws preventing such transparency should be replaced by laws that prevent such transparency from being negotiated away.

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  1. …the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection refuses to say whether the three troopers?John Barone, John Jacobi, and Patrick Torneo?were disciplined for their actions.

    Which would suggest the answer.

    1. They just figure it would upset people if they knew just how harshly they were punished. They received over 3 weeks paid time off. It was gruesome.

  2. who they knew to have organized a previous protest at the state capitol.

    This is mighty suspicious, and leads me to think there might be even more nefarious behavior going on. I mean, was he so famous that they just immediately recognized his name in a random stop, or is there a searchable database of “enemies” with license plates?

    1. Nefarious seems rather apt, Oculi This kind of obfuscatory use of privacy laws and union contract provisions is, sadly, nothing new. In some states, even prosecutors can’t learn about dirty cops. Police reform activists associated with Black Lives Matter launched a project, Check the Police, that tracks union contracts at many of the country’s largest law enforcement agencies. Most have provisions that make accountability more difficult – by preventing past misconduct investigations from being retained in personnel files, for example, or disqualifying complaints that are submitted too long after an incident.

      It seems to me that if an employee is investigated for maleficence and the ultimate determination is that he or she is culpable, then the information is instructive for future cases of misconduct.

  3. John Barone, John Jacobi, and Patrick Torneo

    If only the third trooper’s name was John, I’d start thinking Michael Picard had wandered into a Buckaroo Banzai remake.

    1. John Smallberries?

  4. So we only get to know about the abuses made by cops too fucking dumb to turn off the camera. On the other hand, there probably aren’t a lot of genius cops to begin with.

  5. One question…. how do employment contracts manage to override state and federal law?

    Fabricating charges against a citizen is not just an internal departmental issue, it is a crime. So are most police brutality charges.

    If Ed is charged with jaywalking, that is a public record. How in the world does a union contract override these sorts of public record rules?

    I get that the biggest problem here is that you generally have to get the local media involved before a prosecutor will actually charge a police officer with anything related to actions taken while on the job, but this whole idea that departments can conspire to keep their failings secret by colluding with the unions to enshrine this secrecy in a contract is pretty far up the list as well.

    1. It’s pretty simple. The police are the people who use force. Who forces the people who use force to do something they don’t want to do? Nobody. So they can literally do whatever they want, because no one can stop them.

    2. C-
      I often wonder that myself. Just another facet of the staggering double standards between cops and little people.

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