Hearing Set On Police Refusal To Release Discipline Records

HARTFORD, Conn. (CBS Connecticut and AP) — Connecticut officials will hear arguments Tuesday on whether state police can refuse to say whether a trooper and two sergeants were disciplined on allegations they retaliated against a protester at a sobriety checkpoint by arresting him on bogus criminal charges — an encounter that was recorded by the protester’s camera.

State police rejected requests made under Connecticut’s public records laws earlier this year by The Associated Press and the Journal Inquirer for copies of the internal affairs investigation report as well as the results of the probe, including whether the officers were disciplined. The AP and the newspaper appealed to the Freedom of Information Commission, which scheduled a hearing for Tuesday.

The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which oversees state police, is citing “invasion of privacy” concerns of the officers, state law and the troopers’ labor contract. The AP and the Journal Inquirer argue that citizens have the right to know whether public employees are disciplined for wrongdoing.

The investigation centered on the encounter between protester Michael Picard, of East Hartford, and the three officers — Trooper John Barone, Master Sgt. Patrick Torneo and Sgt. John Jacobi — at a sobriety checkpoint in West Hartford on Sept. 11, 2015.

According to a lawsuit filed by Picard, the officers fabricated charges against him, not knowing they were being recorded by his camera after they seized it. The officers also seized Picard’s legally carried pistol.

The troopers are heard but not seen on Picard’s video 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 at the state Capitol, the lawsuit said.

After finding that Picard has a valid pistol permit, Barone tells the other troopers they have to “cover” themselves and either Torneo or Jacobi said “let’s give him something,” the lawsuit said.

The troopers wrote Picard infraction tickets for illegal use of a highway by a pedestrian and creating a public disturbance — charges that were later dismissed in court.

In court documents, the officers denied allegations of wrongdoing, said they acted reasonably and in good faith and claimed government immunity from liability.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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