- Arts & Life
While there are no laws on the books in Connecticut that make filming a police officer illegal, Quinnipiac senior Kenneth Hartford found out on Saturday night that it isn’t quite so simple.
According to multiple witnesses, within minutes of Hartford beginning to film a Quinnipiac student being arrested outside of Toad’s Place in New Haven, an officer tackled and handcuffed him. Hartford was charged with Disorderly Conduct and Interfering with a Police Investigation. He went on to spend the night in jail at 24 Union Avenue.
(Full transcript of video below)
In a short video that he took on his cell phone before his arrest (viewable above) officers can be heard swearing at Hartford. The officer who ultimately arrested Hartford said, “Put that in your fucking pocket and get the fuck out of here.”
When Hartford then tried to capture the officer’s name and badge number on video, the officer shoved him away. According to Quinnipiac senior Dominic Grenga, when Hartford attempted to return to the area to resume filming on his cell phone, he was thrown to the ground and handcuffed.
New Haven police spokesperson Officer Joe Avery said that Hartford “kept interfering with officers and was asked to back off.”
Hartford was screaming at the police officers, Avery said.
“All I wanted to do was record the arrest, so if there were any inconsistencies later, it could be used to help [the student] out,” Hartford said.
Quinnipiac University has declined comment on this specific incident, but told the Chronicle in a statement that safety “is of paramount importance.”
“To that end, we implemented a shuttle service to New Haven several years ago and its popularity has increased over the years,” Lynn Bushnell, vice president for public affairs, said. “We are aware that the Mayor has expressed concern about all students who frequent certain parts of the downtown area. If there are steps we can take to further ensure the safety of our students as they travel in and out of New Haven, we would surely discuss that with the appropriate parties.”
The statement comes in the wake of words from New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. that shuttle systems like Quinnipiac’s have become a license for students to get “fall-down drunk,” the Yale Daily News reports.
Quinnipiac law student Mario Cerame is building his law review on police using intimidation to stop citizens from filming police encounters. According to Cerame, Hartford’s civil rights may have been violated.
“There may be an equal protection argument here,” Cerame said. “What’s even more interesting to me, is that on the video, the police take a suspect into custody because the suspect knows Kenneth—because the suspect knows the cameraman. That suggests invidiousness and animus by the police towards people who film police.”
If the police acted with animus (a legal term meaning arbitrary dislike of, or hate), Cerame believes that Hartford and the other student may have a case using the equal protection argument of the Fourteenth Amendment. The equal protection clause essentially establishes that the state may not treat people differently when they are in similar situations unless there is a rational reason, such as the safety of the officers.
“It’s hard to imagine how treating a suspect differently because he knows a cameraman could be rationally related to safety,” Cerame said. “But it’s easy to see how such an act would be inspired by animus towards people to film police. If the police acted with animus against the suspect, then that could suggest other actions police took that night against Kenneth were inspired by animus, and not legitimate concerns.”
Cerame said that since it is completely legal to film police officers, vague statutes are often used to charge those who try. Many videos like Hartford’s have been in the news lately, a fact which Hartford was aware of going into the incident.
“As soon as I took out the camera they were uncomfortable because they knew what they were doing was wrong,” Hartford said. Quinnipiac senior Kevin Hillier saw the whole incident, and thought that the officers’ response was unwarranted.
“They claimed [Hartford] taking the video of the arrest was interfering with their interrogation when they arrested him, but the only reason him filming was an issue was because they made a big deal out of it,” Hillier said. “If the police didn’t start dancing in front of the camera and yelling at him, there would be no interference.”
The video taken by Hartford appears to show that the officers only arrested the original student because Hartford began filming. One officer, who began dancing when the camera was turned on, looked into the camera and said, “Watch this.” He then asked the student who they were questioning whether he was with Hartford. When the student replied yes, the officer turned to another officer and said, “Cuff him up.”
A Quinnipiac senior who wished to keep his identity hidden from police and university officials said it was obvious that both arrests were made because of the presence of the camera.
“The officer then attempted to make it very clear that the original student in question was being cuffed and brought in as a direct result of Ken’s filming,” he said. “From my point of view and from everything I was a witness to, it seemed clear that Ken was being arrested for filming the police and had done nothing else that could have provoked his arrest.”
After Hartford was arrested, Grenga and others asked some of the officers for their name and badge number. They were told to leave immediately or the officers would “involve [the students] in the issue.”
Hartford and the student whose arrest he was filming spent the night in a holding cell. Hartford was woken at 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. to answer a series of questions. “They asked the same questions,” Hartford said. “I sat in the same room; it was just a different person at a different computer.”
According to Hartford, the holding cells were very barren. The bunk beds were made entirely of metal, with no mattress or sheets. “I spent all night in jail, and all I did was film them,” Hartford said. “You just feel so helpless.”
Officer 1- (to camera) Watch this!
Officer 1-Is this who you’re with?
QU student- Yes.
Officer 1- (to officer 2) Cuff him up. Cuff him up.
Officer 1- You can watch this.
Hartford- Excuse me.
Hartford- Excuse me, what is he being arrested for sir?
Officer 1- Back away. Or you’re gonnna go to jail.
Hartford- What is he being arrested for, sir?
Officer 2- None of your business. (inaudible)
Officer 1- He said he hit him. He said he hit him, he’s going to jail. That’s why.
Hartford- Oh, ok.
Hartford- I’m sorry, am I on public property right now? (inaudible)
Officer 1- Stop making it worse.
Officer 1- That’s what he said, he said… his face.
Hartford- I’m not saying anything.
Officer 1- Then that’s what’s gonna happen. Are you his lawyer?
Hartford- I’m not his lawyer, sir.
Officer 2- What do you want me to do?
Officer 1- You guys can leave now. Thank you.
Officer 1- He’s going down to (inaudible).
Officer 1- I just told you, he’s going down to (inaudible).
Officer 1- I don’t want to lie to you.
Officer 1- I don’t want to give you (inaudible), alright?
Bouncer- Turn the camera off!
Hartford- I don’t have a camera.
Bouncer- Bullshit, I’m watching you record, now step back. I said go away! I said go away!
Hartford- I’m not doing anything.
Officer 2- Put that in your fucking pocket and get the fuck out of here, because you’ve been (inaudible) all night long.
Officer 2- No you fucking listen! I don’t have to listen to shit! You understand? Take my name and my badge number and get the fuck out of here.
Officer 2- Now get the fuck out of here and take your phone.