HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Two Waterbury police sergeants were sued Tuesday by a man who says he was illegally arrested and detained for filming the exterior of the city's police station.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut filed the lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Wallingford resident Keith Massimino. It accuses Sgts. Matthew Benoit and Frank Laone of violating Massimino's constitutional rights in October 2018 when they arrested him as he filmed from a sidewalk.
Massimino, who said he was performing a “First Amendment audit" of the police department, was charged with interfering with police, which carries up to a year in prison. Prosecutors dropped the case earlier this year.
“It was awful for me and my family to be facing a year in prison for recording the outside of a public building,” Massimino said in a statement. “As a professional videographer, and someone who cares a lot about the freedom of speech and the right to know what the government is up to, I’m still stunned by what these people did to me.”
Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo said police officials will work with the city corporation counsel's office to defend against the allegations. He declined to discuss the officers' actions, citing the pending litigation.
Sgts. Benoit and Laone did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
The lawsuit is seeking undetermined money damages for Massimino and aims to deter any police department from making similar arrests, said Dan Barrett, legal director for the state ACLU chapter. Citizens have the freedom to film and record in public spaces, he said.
“Our ability to observe government buildings and public employees is key to democracy, and vital when it comes to controlling police,” Barrett said. "Connecticut police want to prevent the public from seeing what they’re up to, but we’re not going to let them hide in plain sight.”
Massimino posted an online video of the encounter showing the sergeants approaching him on a sidewalk outside the police department and asking him what he was doing. Massimino replies he is getting “content for a story.”
The sergeants ask him for identification, calling it a “security issue.” He asks why he would have to show ID for performing a legal activity, and he refuses to provide his identification.
“I don’t know if you’re about the blow up the building," Laone says. “You’re videotaping secure areas of the police department.”
“That's not a crime,” Massimino responds.
The sergeants then put Massimino in handcuffs, saying he was being detained for “reasonable suspicion.” They later charged him with interfering with police and released him on a promise to appear in court.
Prosecutors dropped the charge in May, citing their review of the video and case file.