Michael Picard is a provocateur in support of gun rights and opposition to drunken-driving checkpoints. Whatever people think of his politics, he has acted within the law, as he did one night in September 2015, when, standing near an entrance ramp for Interstate 84 in West Hartford, he carried a sign alerting motorists to a checkpoint ahead. In a holster on his hip was a pistol for which he had a permit. He was also carrying a video camera.
Before long Picard was swarmed by some of the state troopers operating the checkpoint. One tried to intimidate Picard by telling him he needed permission to record a trooper - a stupid lie. Then the troopers quickly plunged deeper into dishonesty.
They took Picard’s gun and camera but apparently were unaware that it continued to record them. They retreated to do some checking and found to their shock and dismay that Picard was licensed to carry his gun. Whereupon the troopers began to fabricate evidence and criminal charges against him.
“Gotta cover our ass,” one trooper said as they inadvertently recorded themselves on Picard’s camera. Another trooper suggested that they could “claim” that passing motorists said Picard had waved his gun at them, though no such motorists gave or were asked for their names. Another trooper, apparently recognizing that Picard had undertaken similar protests in Hartford, asked if he should call a Hartford police lieutenant about any “grudges” he had against Picard.
Picard was given several tickets for contrived infractions even as his gun and camera were returned. Weeks later he put the video of the incident on the internet and filed a complaint against the troopers with the state police department.
The resulting investigation took many months and then the state police refused to disclose the resulting report, citing the objection of the troopers. The report was released only the other day when the Freedom of Information Commission called a hearing on complaints brought by the Journal Inquirer and the Associated Press.
It’s no wonder that the state police sought to conceal the report, for it is a silly whitewash exonerating the troopers of their obvious conspiring to arrest an innocent man because he had been politically troublesome. Prosecutors wanted no part of the troopers’ scheme; the charges against Picard were dismissed in court.
The report construes “gotta cover our ass” and “claim” not as the building blocks of conspiracy but as terms of law-enforcement art for following police procedure. The report does not address the lie about needing permission to record a trooper. Nor does it address the trooper’s comment about soliciting the Hartford department’s “grudges” against Picard.
These omissions in the report demolish its credibility.
Now the troopers’ union says it wanted the report disclosed all along, though the union never disputed the state police department’s assertion that the troopers wanted the report suppressed. That’s another blow to the credibility of the troopers.
With the help of the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Picard has sued the state police in federal court.
The state attorney general’s office may be no more enthusiastic about the case than the prosecutors were, and eventually Picard may be offered a substantial financial settlement rather than have the state risk a roll of the dice with a jury trial.
If so, such a settlement will be just another cost of state government’s chronic refusal to hold its employees accountable.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.