Bill guards right to record police

Two more charges against students involved the Elevate raid were dismissed Tuesday, in the wake of the Connecticut Judiciary Committee’s 29-16 approval of a bill that protects the rights of citizens to document police activity.

Morse-Stiles Screw attendees Steven Winter ’11 and Seth Bannon, a Harvard senior who was living in New Haven working on a campaign finance software start-up with Winter and other Yale students, were each charged with one count of disorderly conduct and one count of criminal trespass in the third degree. Their charges were unequivocally dismissed Tuesday. At the raid, where they and three other Yale students were arrested, New Haven Police Department officers demanded that students put away their cellphones and arrested two of them for not doing so, according to the incident police report. The bill that has now advanced to the State Senate is intended to prevent such an incident from happening again.

Winter’s and Bannon’s dismissals Tuesday are the third and fourth Elevate cases to be dismissed. Charges against Alfredo Molinas ’11 and Zachary Fuhrer ’11 were dismissed in January and March, respectively.

“To be vindicated legally feels great, but our work will not be done until abuses such as these stop happening in New Haven,” Bannon said in an e-mail to the News.

Senator Martin Looney, New Haven-D, the chief proponent of the bill to allow documenting of police activity, cited Elevate as one of the incidents that lead to the legislation’s inception, which would allow a citizen to file civil charges against an officer who arrested him or her for video-recording police activity.

“The police, on their own behalf, do not have an expectation of privacy in the performance of their public duties,” Looney said.

Looney, the majority leader and representative for New Haven and Hamden added that the arrest of a citizen, Luis Luna, for the same offense was another motivating factor.

According to the New Haven Independent, Luna used his iPhone to record an arrest by former NHPD Assistant Chief of Operations Ariel Melendez in September. Melendez confiscated Luna’s camera, arrested Luna and ordered an officer to erase the video on the camera. Melendez was also the top-ranking officer to be on the scene in the Elevate raid. He has since retired, and an Internal Affairs report later found that he had violated NHPD policy in the Luna incident.

Before the state bill passed through the Judiciary Committee, Looney and his supporters modified the language of the bill to better protect the privacy rights of persons being filmed. According to the bill, police can prevent citizens from recording police action when the privacy of those being investigated is violated or if the filming interferes with the investigation.

Despite these concessions, Looney believes that the true intent of the bill — the protection of citizens’ right to record law enforcement — remains.

Winter and Bannon have experienced a six-month long legal battle, during which court hearings were pushed back four times due to the delayed release of the Internal Affairs report of the incident.

“There are a lot of cases like mine stuck in New Haven’s courts — cases in which people did nothing wrong and the cops abused their authority,” Winter said in an email. “No one should have to suffer six months or more in court to clear their name for asking a cop a question or using a cellphone.”

Looney said the bill sent to the Senate would allow civilians to document police activity with solid legal backing, adding that if the bill passes, police departments could add training on the new policy to inform their officers on civilians’ legal right to document their activity.

Police spokesman Joseph Avery said the bill would not have an effect on the NHPD, as they already are training their officers to deal with situations involving citizens who record police activity.

“I think that the passage of the statute and the very discussion of the issue will have a very salutary effect in warning police about the possible legal consequences of this behavior,” Looney said.

Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah, New Haven Board of Aldermen Public Safety Committee member, expressed his support for the bill.

“The police are employees of the citizens and their duty is to protect us,” Shah said. “If we see a police offer engaged in abusive behavior or misconduct, I think that we should be able to document it.”

Shah added that the bill may cause police to be more accountable and use more caution in the field.

Alec Joyner ’14, who attended the Morse-Stiles Screw at Elevate in October, said of the bill that “protecting the rights people already have … can only be a good thing.”

Jordan Jefferson ’13, the fifth person arrested in the Elevate raid, has three felony counts of assault on an officer pending.

Everett Rosenfeld contributed reporting.

Comments

  • captainobvious

    I have to say, this has an ex post facto type feeling to it… I understand that nobody has a leg to stand on when complaining about the actions of the Yale students, but changing the law and then dropping charges as a result feels like political gamesmanship in favor of the upper crust of society

  • morse_14

    Are you serious? There should never have been charges in the first place! This has nothing to do with entitlement or political gamesmanship–this is simply the appropriate response to a tragic situation that never should have happened.