Nov 16 2013

Student charged with wiretapping for recording Boston police

Dr. Q

It’s been more than a year since the City of Boston paid out over $200,000 in settlements to people who were falsely arrested and charged with felony wiretapping for video-recording cops, but Boston police still haven’t learned their lesson.

The wiretapping law makes it illegal to secretly record conversations, however, Boston police have arrested a number of people over the years for openly recording and charged them with wiretapping.

Last year, the taxpayers of Boston were forced to pay $170,000 to Simon Glik and $33,000 to Maury Paulino. Both men were arrested — Glik in 2007 and Paulino in 2009 — by Boston police officers for openly video-recording cops making arrests in public.

Last month, Boston police again used the wiretapping law as their excuse for arresting someone who was recording them. This time the victim was a Northeastern student who used his cellphone to record the police during the celebration after the Red Sox won the World Series. Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The Huntington News, a Northeastern student paper, reported the following information about the case:

I was able to catch up with the student charged with wire-tapping, Tyler Welsh, to hear what he did in the confrontation to deserve that charge. He said he and the officer got into an argument after Welsh questioned why he couldn’t go past the barricades the police had set up to contain students near Fenway Park.

“It was like the situation was getting to the point where I thought he wasn’t doing the right thing,” Welsh said. “He was lacking that professionalism and I thought, ‘I’m going to catch this on camera so at least I can go back and have it and be able to see if what he said was okay, was it not okay or was what I was doing okay?”

Welsh described the confrontation with the officer in an all too familiar way for anyone who ever been in the same situation. He described feeling nervous, afraid and losing control of the entire situation. So he put his phone in front of his chest and began to record a video.

It wasn’t the first time the student felt the need to do so.

Two weekends ago, Welsh was outside a party Boston Police shut down in Mission Hill. He encountered five police officers surrounding and pushing one second-year business student, Michael Kerr, and once again felt the need to document the incident.

“I exited the building after asking a cop inside if I could retrieve my jacket, who replied by grabbing me by my collar and yelling at me to leave immediately,” Kerr said. “I asked another officer outside the same, at which point I was surrounded by 5 of them pushing me and calling me a ‘tough guy’ and to ‘stop with all the questions.’”

An October 31 press release from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office confirms that Welsh was arrested for recording the police:

A dozen people arrested in Boston after last night’s World Series win appeared in a Boston courtroom today, with 10 of them being arraigned today on charges related to their alleged conduct, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said.

Of the 12 people arrested by Boston, State, and MBTA Transit police, Roxbury District Court Judge Tracy-Lee Lyons dismissed one case for lack of probable cause and continued a second man’s case for arraignment at a later date. Those two men were a 23-year-old Allston man arrested by Transit Police for trespassing into the tunnel leading from the Blandford Street MBTA stop toward Kenmore Square and a 20-year-old Northeastern University student who allegedly refused to follow Boston Police officers’ orders to leave the area of Kenmore Square and recorded the confrontation on his cell phone. (emphasis added)


Aug 14 2013

Man assaulted by Boston police sergeant for taking video

Dr. Q

It’s been more than a year since the City of Boston paid out over $200,000 in settlements to people falsely arrested for video-recording cops, but Boston police still haven’t learned their lesson.

Last year, the taxpayers of Boston were forced to pay $170,000 to Simon Glik and $33,000 to Maury Paulino. Both men were arrested — Glik in 2007 and Paulino in 2009 — by Boston police officers for openly video-recording cops making arrests in public.

During Glik’s legal odyssey, the First Circuit federal appeals court explained in a ruling that recording the police in public is a well-established, constitutionally protected right and police can be sued for violating this right.

Despite these rulings and hefty settlements, a Boston police sergeant showed yesterday that he felt perfectly comfortable physically assaulting someone for video-recording, threatening him with arrest, and forcing him to cross the street against his will.

Boston-resident Jay Kelly was walking down the sidewalk of Adams Street in Dorchester, just a few blocks away from where he lives, when he noticed a group of police detaining several people. He walked past the police, took out his cellphone, and began recording out of concern for the people who had been detained.

"Sarge"

“Sarge”

It wasn’t long before Kelly was approached by a pudgy, balding thug in a blue shirt who asked him why he was “taking pictures” of “undercover” — no — “plainclothes police officers.”

“You’ve got guns on the street,” Kelly said, expressing the appropriate skepticism one should have for a group of armed strangers.

The cop told Kelly that he could record, but said that he was somehow “putting plainclothes officers’ safety at risk.”

The officer showed Kelly his badge, but promptly covered it up and walked away after Kelly attempted to record it. Kelly was able to read that the officer’s badge number was 362.

“What’s your name, officer?” Kelly asked.

“Actually, it’s sergeant,” the cop petulantly replied. The cop never told Kelly his name, so we’ll refer to him as “Sarge” for the purposes of this article.

Sarge and a red-shirted cop (later identified as “Fabiano”) began telling Kelly that he would have to move down the street.

“You guys like shooting it out with people,” Kelly told the cops, expressing his anger at their ridiculous orders.

Sarge became enraged by Kelly’s comment and began walking toward him menacingly and assaulted him by grabbing at his camera.

Sarge continued walking toward Kelly, forcing him to back up the length of two parked cars. At one point, Sarge walked into Kelly and threatened to arrest him for assaulting and battering a police officer if they came into physical contact again. “I was threatened with arrest for pushing him when in the video I am clearly moving back,” Kelly told me.

Sarge ordered Kelly to cross the street. When Kelly pointed out that it would be jaywalking to do so, the cop walked into the street and began blocking off traffic.

After Kelly crossed the street, he continued recording the police for several minutes.

Sarge yelled at Kelly from across the street that the people the police were detaining did not want to be recorded. “They can tell me that if they want,” Kelly said. None of the individuals told Kelly to stop recording.

Kelly doesn’t record police very often, “but if something seems amiss, I would stop and observe [the police] any time,” he told me. He said he recorded police a number of times during his involvement with Occupy Boston. He also mentioned that he was pushed around by a State Police Captain for video-recording at the State House last year in April.

Kelly said he has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union about yesterday’s incident. He also contacted Deputy Superintendent John J. Daley of the Boston Police Department in order to file a complaint. He said he was interested in pressing assault charges against Sarge.

Kelly pointed out to me that the Boston Police Department sometimes uses its Twitter account to ask for witnesses of shootings to come forward, but in this case, the police were trying to stop him from witnessing what was happening. “They only want witnesses when convenient to them,” he said. “Fuck that bullshit.”

“They’re all bastards,” Kelly said of police. He said he suffers from PTSD because of his past interactions with police officers and his experience spending several years in jail.

Nevertheless, Kelly said that after yesterday’s incident, he is probably more likely to record police he sees in the future.


Aug 6 2013

Cop Block founder sues Greenfield police over 2010 arrest

Dr. Q

Ademo Freeman (legal name Adam Mueller), the founder of Cop Block, has filed a lawsuit against the Greenfield Police Department over his 2010 arrest for recording at a jail in Greenfield.

In a complaint (.pdf format) filed with the United States District Court of Massachusetts on July 1, Ademo’s attorneys Elaine Sharp and Cornelius Sullivan detail the facts of the case, most of which have been public knowledge for some time now.

On July 1, 2010, Ademo and Pete Eyre drove from New Hampshire to the Franklin County House of Corrections in Greenfield where they attempted to bail a friend out of jail. Ademo and Pete, who have worked together on documentary projects such the Motorhome Diaries and Liberty on Tour, brought their videos cameras with them to document the encounter at the jail.

Ademo and Pete were initially told by employees in the jail lobby that they could not record. They refused to shut their cameras off and were eventually able to speak to a supervisor who gave them permission to continue recording.

They did not have their driver’s licenses or sufficient money to post bail, so they left the jail to get money out of an ATM and retrieve their licenses from their RV which was parked a few miles away.

When they returned to the jail, they were again told that they could not record. A police officer, Sergeant Todd M. Dodge, entered the jail and told them that they would have to shut their cameras off or leave. They asked to speak to Dodge outside the jail.

Outside the jail, Ademo and Pete were eventually arrested by Dodge and two jail employees. They were both charged with wiretapping, trespassing, and resisting arrest. Pete also faced additional charges.

After they were arrested, the police illegally searched their RV. The police demanded that Ademo and Pete turn over the keys to the RV and threatened to break a window in order to gain entry if the keys were not provided to them. After the RV was searched, it was towed to an impound lot.

Ademo and Pete had their pants taken away from them and were forced to sleep in freezing cells without blankets or toilet paper. They were not given the opportunity to make phone calls or bail themselves out of jail. They were released from jail and arraigned the following day.

They were eventually given a joint trial at which they defended themselves pro se. They were acquitted by a jury.

The lawsuit also mentions an incident during which Ademo was issued a jaywalking citation by Greenfield police while passing out flyers to raise awareness about his situation. According to the lawsuit, the citation was issued in retaliation for Ademo exercising his first amendment rights.

The lawsuit names Todd M. Dodge and other unspecified Greenfield police officers as defendants. The lawsuit also names the town of Greenfield as a defendant for failing to properly train its police force and hold them accountable for misconduct.

The suit seeks unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees.

According to Open Media Boston, the defendants had not yet filed an answer to the complaint as of August 2, which means that no hearings have been scheduled yet.

Pete made the decision to not be involved with the lawsuit. “My rationale is that I don’t want to grant legitimacy to institutions founded on coercion,” he told me.

This was not the first or the last time the Greenfield police used a spurious “wiretapping” charge to punish people for recording their actions. In 2007, Greenfield police charged Emily Peyton with wiretapping after she recorded the arrest of an antiwar protester. The charges were later dropped. In 2011, Ademo and Pete’s friend Beau Davis was charged with wiretapping a Greenfield police officer for reasons that were unknown to him, but the charges were later dropped by the prosecutor.


Aug 1 2013

GateHouse Media objects to marathon bombing trial secrecy

Dr. Q

By Michael Gagne
Herald News Staff Reporter

Bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

BOSTON — GateHouse Media Inc., the parent company of several Massachusetts-based community newspapers — including The Herald News, the Patriot Ledger and the MetroWest Daily News — on Wednesday submitted a letter to federal district court objecting that the public docket maintained in the criminal case against Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is missing entries.

According to the letter, “a review of the docket sheet for this case [United States v. Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev] indicates that numerous entries have not even been listed.”

“Wide swaths of court records have been omitted in their entirety from the docket listings,” the letter states. “The incomplete public docket sheet maintained in this case … does not accurately reflect the materials on file with the Court. As a result, the Newspapers’ constitutionally protected newsgathering and reporting efforts have been frustrated.”

The letter further points out that “only 27 of a total of 69 numbered court filings are available to the press and public,” and notes that at least 42 court filings are missing completely from the docket sheet, “as if they do not exist.”

“The perception of judicial integrity is enhanced when court records are readily accessible to, not secreted away from, the public,” said attorney Michael J. Grygiel, who submitted the letter for GateHouse Media.

“Numerous entries appear to have been omitted from the public docket sheet in this important case,” Grygiel said. “The omissions apparently include motions that have been filed under seal, without notice to the press and public that impoundment was occurring, as constitutional procedures require.”

The missing entries include a sealed motion that was the subject of an electronic order issued on May 20, 2013. Referred to in the order as “30 Sealed Motion,” it was granted in part by the court.

“However, the listed docket entries nowhere include an entry numbered 30 that was evidently the subject of the Court’s order on May 20, 2013, let alone indicate that it was a motion filed under seal. Nor do they indicate whether either party electronically filed a motion for impoundment” as required by court rules, the letter reads.

The letter states that the public has “a presumptive First Amendment right to inspect and copy judicial documents.” That right “ensures that proceedings are fairly conducted, and allows the public to know that the system is working properly. These concerns take on heightened importance in a prominent case such as this, where public education and the perception of fairness are critical.”

The omission of filings leaves the press “without a meaningful mechanism by which to find the documents necessary to learn what has actually transpired in this Court in this case,” according to the letter.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is accused of perpetrating the April 15, 2013, bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon with his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The two explosions killed three people and injured more than 200 others. On April 18, Federal Bureau of Investigations officials released photographs of the pair, identifying them as suspects in the bombings.

In the events that followed, the pair allegedly killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer, carjacked a Mercedes Benz and led police on a chase and shootout throughout Cambridge and Watertown. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died that night from injuries sustained when he was run over by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found the next day hiding under a boat in the backyard of a Watertown residence. He has since received a court hearing during his hospital recovery from injuries sustained in the shootout with police. Tsarnaev also appeared in a pretrial hearing federal district court on July 10, where he pleaded not guilty to 30 charges, which include use of a weapon of mass destruction. He is scheduled to appear in court again in September.

This article was originally published by The Herald News under the title “GateHouse Media files letter objecting to incomplete docket in Tsarnaev case.” It has been republished under a Creative Commons license per Herald News policy. Follow the link to back to see a .pdf format copy of the complaint.


Nov 9 2011

Chief says officer was disciplined, but doesn’t say how

Dr. Q

In October, I wrote about how a UMass Lowell student was threatened by a campus police officer for video-recording him. Brendan Brown was recording the police respond to a fight outside an apartment when he was confronted by a police officer and told to “Shut that fucking thing off before I slap you.”

In case you missed the first post, you can check out the video below:

In my first article about the incident, I reported that UMass Lowell Police Chief Randolph Brashears was investigating the incident and said that he would tell me about the results of the investigation once it was complete.

Yesterday, I finally received a (snail mail) letter from Chief Brashears. Here’s what the letter said (click here for scan in .jpeg format):

I want to thank you again for being the first to bring the matter of the Youtube video to my attention. Officer Noberto Melendez was investigated for his comments to the student on October 8th that was captured on camera. The subsequent allegations against the officer were sustained and he will be disciplined in accordance with University policy and the Teamsters union.

This unfortunate event has given us the opportunity to retrain our entire department concerning recent court decisions that allow citizens to film police and victims of crime who are interacting with the police.

Thanks again for contacting our agency.

I was glad to read certain parts of this letter. It’s good that Chief Brashears has voluntarily released the name of the officer who threatened the student. It’s also good to hear that he sustained the complaint against the officer.

But it’s not enough for Chief Brashears to simply claim that the officer will be disciplined without providing any details. Unless he is transparent enough to say how the officer will be disciplined, there’s no reason for us to believe that he has actually done anything. Even if the officer is disciplined, we can’t gauge whether the discipline was appropriate unless we know how he was disciplined.

Since I believe that Chief Brashears hasn’t been sufficiently transparent about this incident, I decided to send a public records request to his department. I sent out two copies of the request. One was a physical copy that I sent through traditional mail. The other was an electronic copy that I sent via email.

Under the Massachusetts Public Records Law, anyone can send a request to any state or local government agency in Massachusetts for copies of records kept by that agency. Government agencies are required to respond to these requests within 10 days and must agree to release the records unless they contain certain types of information that are exempt from disclosure. They may charge fees for providing the copies, but there are some limitations on how much they can charge. (Check here for more information about making public records requests in Massachusetts.)

Unfortunately, there are problems with the public records law. As The Boston Globe documented in a 2009 article, government agencies are often able to get away with wrongfully delaying the release of time sensitive information, using loopholes to charge exorbitant amounts of money for records, illegally destroying public records, and even flat out ignoring requests.

Nevertheless, making public records requests is one of the best options people have for getting answers to questions they have about government agencies in Massachusetts.

The request I sent to Chief Brashears asks for copies of any documents related to his investigation of Officer Melendez (my hope is that the file will contain information about how Melendez was disciplined) as well as documents related to the training he said his officers have received.

You can read the request I sent out below (click here for .pdf version):

This is a request under the Massachusetts Public Records Law (M. G. L. Chapter 66, Section 10). As you may be aware, the Public Records Law requires you to provide me with a written response within 10 calendar days. If you cannot comply with my request, you are statutorily required to provide an explanation in writing.

We recently communicated about an incident during which UMass Lowell police officer Noberto Melendez threatened a student for video-recording him. During our correspondence, you were helpful and provided some information to me, however, I feel that there are certain details about this incident that the public should be informed about that you have yet to disclose.

In our previous correspondence, you said that you had investigated Officer Melendez over his conduct. I would like for you to provide me with copies of all documents related to this investigation.

You also said that you had sustained allegations against Officer Melendez and had plans to discipline him “in accordance with University policy and the Teamsters union.” However, you did not say how you planned to discipline him. I would like to know in advance whether or not the file on the investigation contains specific information about what discipline Officer Melendez will be subjected to.

You may be aware that there is an exemption to the public records law for personnel information, however, you should also be aware that this exemption does not apply to documents related to internal investigations by police agencies. The Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled that “materials in an internal affairs investigation are different in kind from the ordinary evaluations, performance assessments and disciplinary determinations encompassed in the public records exemption for ‘personnel [file] or information'” and are subject to disclosure under the public records law (Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corporation vs. Chief of Police of Worcester & another. (AC 02-P-1632) 58 Mass. App. Ct. 1 (2003)).

In our previous correspondence, you also mentioned that your department has been “retrain[ed]… concerning recent court decisions that allow citizens to film police and victims of crime who are interacting with the police.” I would like copies of any documents related to this training including but not limited to policy memos circulated within the department. I would also like a copy of the department’s written policy on dealing with members of the public who record police officers.

I recognize that you may charge reasonable costs for copies, as well as for personnel time needed to comply with this request. If you expect costs to exceed $10.00, please provide a detailed fee estimate. I would appreciate it if you waived any fees associated with the fulfillment of this request as I believe the release of these documents is in the public interest.

I appreciate you taking time to read over and consider this public records request. I look forward to hearing back from you soon.

Chief Brashears told me in an email that he has forwarded the electronic copy of the request to the department’s attorney. I’ll post an update when I get a response.


Nov 2 2011

Lawsuit alleges Boston police beat man for recording friend’s arrest

Dr. Q

Earlier today, civil rights attorneys Howard Friedman and David Milton filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Maury Paulino, a Boston resident who says he was beaten and arrested by a Boston police officer for recording his friend’s arrest with a cell phone camera on November 18, 2009 while three other officers watched and failed to intervene.

The lawsuit (.pdf) alleges that the police violated Paulino’s first, fourth, and fourteenth amendment rights by arresting and brutalizing him. The suit names the four police officers — Seth Richard, Nicholas Onishuk, Richard Davis, and James Moore — as defendants. The suit also names the City of Boston “for failing to supervise and discipline Boston police officers, thereby permitting them to unlawfully arrest people for videotaping police officers performing their official duties in public.” The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages.

According to the lawsuit, Maury Paulino, who was 19-years-old at the time, went to the Boston Police B-2 station to bail out his friend, Pablo Guerrero. After paying the bail and waiting for about 15 minutes, he saw Guerrero enter the lobby of the police station followed by Officer Seth Richard. The two were in the middle of an argument. Officer Richard allegedly shoved Guerrero and Paulino told him that they should leave. Officer Richard continued to shove Guerrero as he exited the station through the front door.

Once they were outside the police station, Officer Richard, now joined by officers Nicholas Onishuk and Richard Davis, approached Guerrero to arrest him again. The three began shoving Guerrero repeatedly and threatened to pepper spray him. It was at this point that Paulino pulled out his cell phone and began recording.

You can see his recording here:

While the three police officers arrested Guerrero and sprayed him with pepper spray, Paulino asked them why they were using so much force.

As the officers brought Guerrero back into the police station, Officer Richard asked the other officers for a second set of handcuffs so he could arrest Paulino (this can be heard on the video). Officer Richard allegedly tackled Paulino at this point.

While Paulino was on the floor, the three officers were joined by Sgt. James Moore, a supervising officer.

Officer Richard began punching Paulino in the face, dousing him with pepper spray, and kneeing him in the face. While this was going on, none of the other three officers attempted to intervene.

Once Paulino was bailed out of jail by his mother, he went directly to the ER at Boston Medical Center where he was treated for multiple injuries to his face, jaw, and mouth including bruising by his toothline and jawline, abrasions on his neck, bleeding from his mouth, nose, and lips, and laceration on his scalp. Paulino was also spitting up blood from his injuries.

Paulino was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, two counts of assault and battery on a police officer, and felony wiretapping.

The “wiretapping” charge against Paulino is one of the more interesting aspects of the story. As I’ve explained numerous times on this blog before, the state’s wiretapping statute only criminalizes secretly audio-recording others, yet Paulino’s video clearly shows that his camera was out in the open.

Paulino’s suit was filed just months after a federal appeals court ruled that the right to openly record police in Massachusetts is clearly established and police cannot claim “qualified immunity” against lawsuits if they interfere with this right. That ruling stems from a similar incident in which attorney Simon Glik was arrested on a “wiretapping” charge by Boston police for recording an arrest with his cell phone camera on the Boston Common in 2007.

Paulino and Glik are just two of many individuals who have been wrongfully charged with “wiretapping” by Massachusetts police officers for exercising their right to record and document police activity.

Luckily, the wiretapping charge against Paulino was dismissed by a clerk magistrate. Paulino was acquitted of all the other charges at trial.

It will be interesting to see how this suit plays out. I’ll post an update as soon as more information becomes available.