State troopers exonerated in probe of protester arrest
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut state police internal affairs investigation has cleared three troopers of wrongdoing in connection with allegations they retaliated against a protester at a sobriety checkpoint by filing bogus criminal charges, a state police union lawyer disclosed Tuesday.
The disclosure came as state police lawyers settled public records laws complaints filed by The Associated Press and Journal Inquirer. The agency agreed to release the internal affairs investigation report just before a state Freedom of Information Commission hearing officer was to start a hearing on the news organizations’ complaints.
State police had refused to release the report earlier this year, citing the privacy rights of the three troopers.
Details from the investigation report were not immediately released Tuesday, and state police lawyers declined to comment. The report is expected to be released, with certain personal information redacted, within two days, but state police union attorney Mark Dumas confirmed the findings during a proceeding before the commission hearing officer.
“They were exonerated,” Dumas said. “The troopers didn’t do anything wrong. They were doing their jobs, and they do an excellent job.”
The investigation centered on the encounter between 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.
Picard and his lawyer, Joseph Sastre, disagree with the findings of the internal investigation but said they weren’t surprised. They attended the Freedom of Information Commission proceeding on Tuesday.
“We all should be so lucky to be in charge of investigating ourselves,” Sastre said.
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 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 said.
After finding that Picard had 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 dropped by prosecutors.
Dumas and Sgt. Andrew Matthews, the state police union president, alleged that Picard selectively edited the video before he posted it online, and it does not tell the whole story of what happened that night. They did not elaborate.
“While some people use their free time to harass and provoke law enforcement officers who are trying to save lives by identifying drunk drivers, we know that the vast majority of people understand and appreciate the dangerous work our troopers do to keep us all safe,” Matthews said in a statement Tuesday.
After state police refused to release the report on its internal investigation of the encounter, the AP and Journal Inquirer appealed to the Freedom of Information Commission, arguing that citizens have the right to know whether public employees are disciplined for wrongdoing.
Picard’s lawsuit accuses the three troopers of violating his First and Fourth Amendment rights by not allowing him to record the checkpoint activities with his camera and by seizing his camera without a warrant. He also accuses them of retaliating against him for exercising his constitutional rights. The troopers deny any wrongdoing.
Torneo and Jacobi remain on the state police force, while Barone has since retired.