MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Man Protests Police Department's Violation of Speech Rights, So Cops Arrest Him

Stamford, Connecticut, police chief objects to salty language on a sign. That’s not a crime.

Stamford Police ChiefFootage providedThe chief of police of Stamford, Connecticut, personally oversaw the arrest of a protester who held a sign that criticized the police department's disrespect for freedom of speech.

In April, Michael Picard staged a protest outside the Stamford courthouse with a sign that read "Fuck Free Speech —Stamford PD." Picard was showing support for a buddy, Michael Friend, who had been arrested earlier that month for standing around in public holding a sign warning drivers of a police checkpoint designed to catch and ticket distracted drivers.

Police ordered Friend to dump the sign. He refused. He was then charged with a misdemeanor count of interfering with police.

That arrest, of course, was a violation of Friend's speech rights, and that's why Picard showed up in front of the courthouse with his own sign when Friend was being arraigned. He had a fellow protester, Dawud Talib, recording him. Picard provided video of what happened next to Reason. Picard and Talib wandered next door to the police station, and that's where they were confronted by Police Chief Jon Fontneau, who ordered them to put the sign down or face arrest for breach of peace. When Picard refused, he was arrested by three other officers and escorted into the police station, leaving Talib out on the curb.

While Picard's arrest report claims witnesses saw him jumping out in front of pedestrians with his sign, I did not see anything like that in the video, which shows hardly any foot traffic near the police station. According to the report, "Michael was publicly displaying offensive and indecent language." The report says Picard was ordered to move to the public sidewalk under the threat of arrest for breach of peace. In the video, he is clearly on a public sidewalk in front of the police station.

Picard posted a shorter, edited version of his arrest on YouTube. Watch below:

This is not Picard's first brush with Connecticut police in connection with checkpoints, warning signs, and free speech. Picard is a regular protester of police checkpoints who uses signs to warn drivers of their presence. Connecticut state troopers seized his video camera in 2015 as he was holding signs warning drivers of a DUI checkpoint and ticketed him. The troopers accidentally left his camera rolling, and it recorded them apparently conspiring to find a reason to file charges against Picard. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, he filed a civil rights lawsuit against the state police in 2016. The charges against him were subsequently dropped. Picard also has previously been arrested (and then released without charges after being held for hours) for distributing jury nullification pamphlets outside the courthouse in Bronx, New York.

On Tuesday, prosecutors dropped the charges against Friend. Supervisory State's Attorney Steven Weiss suggested that Friend's "Cops Ahead" sign actually helped police. Via the Stamford Advocate:

"This person set up his position upstream from the police with the sign," Weiss told Judge Gary White. "He thought he was interfering with the police, but the irony was he was helping them do their job because the point was to get people off their cellphones and that is exactly what he accomplished—probably more so than the police would have working alone. I thanked him for helping the police and I nolled the case."

Whether a person's speech helps or hinders police efforts to curb distracted driving does not determine whether it's legally protected by the First Amendment, but nice face-saving effort. Obviously the police didn't see Friend's behavior as helpful, because it kept them from handing out citations, which is exactly why Picard and Friend engage in these protests. They see these checkpoints as a way to make money, not protect public safety.

Fontneau's office did not return a call from Reason to answer questions about Picard's arrest. Picard was scheduled to be arraigned this morning.

Photo Credit: Video footage provided

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Just Say'n||

    This guy is obviously a commentator here or at a libertarian publication.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    After he was released, he wanted everyone to start calling him Locutis.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    He was heard yelling from the depths of the police station, "THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!"

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    "Mr. Picard, how do you plead?"
    "Shaka, when the walls fell."

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Y'all are a pack of nerds.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    I believe in this context that fleet is the group word you're looking for.

  • Quixote||

    There can be no excuse, in our great American nation, for twisting language and stirring up controversy — all of this indecency should be met with the full force of the law. We have ample president in New York, and in this regard I again invite everyone here to join me in protesting, with appropriate discretion but also as vigorously as possible, the refusal of a so-called judge to jail America's leading criminal "satirist." See the documentation at:

    https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • Quixote||

    There can be no excuse, in our great American nation, for twisting language and stirring up controversy — all of this indecency should be met with the full force of the law. We have ample president in New York, and in this regard I again invite everyone here to join me in protesting, with appropriate discretion but also as vigorously as possible, the refusal of a so-called judge to jail America's leading criminal "satirist." See the documentation at:

    https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • Intelligent Mr Toad||

    [Applause]

  • Intelligent Mr Toad||

  • Intelligent Mr Toad||

  • Intelligent Mr Toad||

  • gormadoc||

    Worth posting three times, if only because that bitch deserved her comeuppance.

  • SKR||

    Damn fine work all

  • Intelligent Mr Toad||

    I didn't mean to post three times. I clicked, saw no response, so clicked again, saw no response, waited forty seconds, tried clicking once more, then saw three copies of the post.

  • croaker||

    Squirrels.

  • Intelligent Mr Toad||

    You know that the bitch is played by Jean Simmons, who played Spartacus' girl, and (as a child actress) Estella in GREAT EXPECTATIONS.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Someone on here will be absent from commenting for a day or so.

  • Ship of Theseus||

    This is normally where I'd say 'I hate the police,' but I don't hate them nearly as much as I hate their enablers and apologists.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I smell a 1st Amendment lawsuit.

    By the time this guy's lawyer is done with that Chief of Police, the Chief will smell like feet wrapped in leathery burnt bacon.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    Why/How re: burnt bacon? The taxpayer will pay the tab without realizing it and he will retire on "Chief Disability" in a few years down to his 2nd house in sunny Florida.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Robot Chicken Star Wars reference.

  • Juice||

    Friend was ordered by police to dump the sign lick the cop's asshole clean. He refused. He was then charged with a misdemeanor count of interfering with police.

  • Jerryskids||

    So you've got a guy hoping to provoke a confrontation with the cops that makes the cops look bad and/or stupid and the cops immediately confront him the minute they he provokes them, in a way that makes them look bad and/or stupid. Are the cops really that stupid that they can't understand that they are giving a live, real-time demonstration of the validity of the guy's point or are they really that bad that they just don't give a fuck? Sort of "Look, if you call me a violent thug one more time, I'm going to beat the shit out of you because I most certainly am not a violent thug" versus "Yeah, I'm a violent thug, what are you gonna do about it?"

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Police departments have a real hard time getting smart people to join their ranks.

  • Eidde||

    I'm sure they have smart people, and hopefully they make use of them.

    But clearly it's not a *prerequisite* for police work. Though, really, it ought to be.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    They tried to get smart people but made a typo and got fart people instead.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Courts have upheld police rejecting recruits who are too smart.

  • SKR||

    This ^^^^

  • croaker||

    Police departments usually disqualify anyone with an IQ exceeding room temperature.

  • SimonP||

    I used to wonder why police departments intentionally recruit morons. Then I had a direct encounter with one.

    When a person doesn't understand or have patience for rational argument, it's much easier for them to force compliance with their orders. They tell you to do something; you object or try to explain why you shouldn't; they don't care. They just aren't interested in explaining themselves. They are really just the mindless club of the state, there to embody the monopoly of force, not to understand their role or function.

  • Unemployed Armenian Tranny||

    Some police departments purposefully exclude people who are deemd too smart.

  • Ship of Theseus||

    I think it's #2 personally.

  • Eidde||

    If they're going to be passing out jury "nullification" literature, why target trial jurors? Most cases don't get to a trial jury, since they're pled out.

    Why not give leaflets to the *grand* jurors? Possible talking points:

    -For most suspects who come before you, the grand jury is the *only* jury that will consider their case.

    -Demand the whole case file, and if the prosecutor won't cough it up, don't indict.

    -If you're not convinced a suspect is guilty, then accusing him of a crime is potentially bearing false witness against your neighbor.

    -Treat the suspect with the attention you'd want if a prosecutor wanted to indict *you.*

    -Don't trust prosecutors.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    At the state level, only around half the states still require grand jury indictments for all or even most felonies. In the rest of the states, about the only time they actually trot out a grand jury is if a cop is accused of committing a crime and the prosecutor wants political cover for not prosecuting.

  • Eidde||

    Sure, I know.

    Grand juries are probably the reason the US Supreme Court won't incorporate the *entire* Bill of Rights even though they've incorporated most of it.

  • DajjaI||

    Any confrontation with the police, just drop the sign and repeat "Hands up don't shoot" and "I do not have a weapon". Repeat with increasing tone of alarm to every question and keep your eye on their weapon. Eventually they will back off and leave you alone. (In Israel you might get a few elbows to the face but evidently they are trained to avoid fractures.) #signieslivesmatter

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    You're just making that up, but it's a fun daydream.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    Michael Friend should have a pretty good case, as it has already been ruled that warning of a police speed trap is free speech.

    It's interesting that people are arrested all of the time for not knowing the law. The cop who arrested Friend should be arrested for kidnapping. He should have known that the law protects Friend's speech in this particular case.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Look - if we arrested all the police officers who've made blatantly unnecessary arrests and charged them with kidnapping, there'd be no one left to ticket drivers for "distracted driving," whatever the fuck that is. Is that the world you want to live in?

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    In short. Yes.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    I'll second that motion.

  • croaker||

    The nine whores on First Street decided a few years ago that police being mistaken about this law is copacetic.

  • Paper Wasp||

    Stamford resident, calling the police: "Somebody broke into my garage and stole my car."
    Stamford police: "Welp, this kind of thing is pretty common. You should put up cameras and get stronger locks."
    Resident: "Aren't you going to do anything? Do you even want a description of the car? Are you going to make a report? Dust for prints on the garage door? Anything?"
    Stamford police: "Nah, we just don't have the manpower to investigate property crimes."

    Also Stamford police: "OMG THERE'S A PUNK KID OUT THERE WITH A SIGN WITH THE F-WORD ON IT!!1!!1!1!!! TAKE HIM DOWN!!!!"

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    He thought he was interfering with the police, but the irony was he was helping them do their job...

    It almost seems like arresting him then was counterproductive.

  • Don't look at me.||

    He was not helping them do their job. Their job is to produce income via tickets. Making sure drivers aren't distracted is the cover story.

  • Hank Phillips||

    ...well, tickets and asset forfeiture looting.

  • Tony||

    The Picard who fought at Trafalgar. The Picard who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry. The Picards who settled the first Martian colony. The Picard who said "Fuck Free Speech."

  • Citizen X - #6||

    He was attributing the quote "Fuck Free Speech" to the Stamford PD, if you read. That's why it's funny* that the PD's subsequent actions validated his attribution.

    *for Kafka values of "funny"

  • croaker||

    The only reason why this continues is because no federal prosecutor has the balls to enforce 18 USC 241 against the popo.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    The report says Picard was ordered to move to public sidewalk or be arrested for breach of peace. In the video, he is clearly very much on a public sidewalk in front of the police station.

    The second sentence is, to your typical police officer, irrelevant to actions taken regarding the first.

  • TxJack 112||

    Everyone knows speed traps and checkpoints are how police make money for their respective departments and governments. It is no surprise they get mad when someone screws up their ability to make their quota (yes there is actually a quota in every department. Many friends who are police have said it is true and also told me they are instructed they are to deny it exists EVERY time they are asked. They also have if you fail to make your quota, expect your supervisor to chew your ass out) However, what is happening here is very heavy handed but is anyone really surprised since Democrats have consistently been against individual freedom and the Constitution in CT? Who what #1 supporter of Mallory's gun control laws? Police....

  • Tony||

    I will corroborate the existence of quotas. And of screening for psychopathic personality traits in training.

  • croaker||

    Sociopathic, not psychopathic.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    No, they don't screen for sociopathic behavior, they select for it.

  • Eidde||

    "Do you have a list I asked for, the list of the craziest, most trigger-happy candidates?"

    "Yes, right here. Now we know who not to hire."

    "Uh, exactly."

  • sarcasmic||

    "Would you kill someone who gave you a dirty look? Cool. This is where we put the bodies. Those places where civilians are not allowed. That's where we bury the homeless people we kill for sport. Speaking of which... Hey Jack! The new guy needs someone to shoot!"

  • sarcasmic||

    While Picard's arrest report claims witnesses saw him jumping out in front of pedestrians with his sign, I did not see anything like that in the video

    Police are trained to make reports that justify their actions, not reports that tell what actually happened. And when their reports conflict with video or some other record of the truth, the truth will be held criminally suspect. Contradicting an agent of the state has been a crime as long as we have had history. We're a step up from agents murdering dissidents on sight, but in practice we'are not much different.

  • Jury Nullification||

    "Picard's arrest report claims witnesses saw him jumping out in front of pedestrians with his sign,..."

    "Cop didn't see it, I didn't do it. " George Carlin

    The cops most assuredly got the details of the "witnesses" making that claim for the integrity of the case. True or false?

  • JoeBlow123||

    What exactly was he arrested for? He is on public property, right?

  • Hank Phillips||

    So police actually used the force of law to violate individual rights? Gidaddaheah!

  • IceTrey||

    That's nothing. This guy has been arrested 5 times for recording. He's been trespassed from every public building in Leon Valley Texas.

    https://youtu.be/sQkC2QNhVTc

  • Utilitarian||

    Police officials who institute traffic citation quotas deserve to be executed.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online