George Thompson was shoved to the ground and arrested in January by a Massachusetts cop for the crime of standing on his porch and recording a police officer with his iPhone. The cops then deleted his footage.
Now it’s payback time.
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Thompson has filed a federal lawsuit against Fall River police officer Thomas Barboza with the help of attorney David Milton. Milton previously helped establish the right to record police officers in public by suing the Boston police on behalf of Simon Glik, winning a $170,000 settlement in a landmark decision.
According to the lawsuit:
While Mr. Thompson’s smartphone was in the custody of the Fall River police, all of the data on the phone—including the video he had taken of Defendant Barboza’s belligerent and improper behavior—was deleted.
Fall River police tried to blame Mr. Thompson for the deletion. A Fall River police detective issued a report suggesting, without any evidence, that Mr. Thompson had remotely erased the contents of the phone through the “cloud.” The chief of police publicly insinuated that Mr. Thompson or someone else outside the police department might have deleted the contents.
In fact, Fall River police were responsible for deleting the contents of the phone, as an independent forensic investigation later confirmed.
As a result of Defendant Barboza’s misconduct, Mr. Thompson suffered loss of property and physical and emotional damages. All of the contents of his smartphone, including personal photographs, were deleted. He was deprived of the use of his smartphone for months while it was improperly held as evidence. Mr. Thompson suffered physical pain when Barboza knocked him to the ground. Mr. Thompson spent the night in jail and faced baseless criminal charges for several months. He is now afraid to go out alone because he fears being harassed by the police.
Thompson had started recording Officer Barboza as the cop talked loudly on his cell phone using expletives while on duty. After assaulting and battering Thompson, Barboza arrested him and charged him with wiretapping and resisting arrest.
Once released from jail, Thompson discovered the data on his phone was deleted while in police custody, erasing the recording of Barboza. Of course, the Fall River police tried to blame Thompson. According to the Bay State Examiner, the Fall River police claimed:
that Thompson must have reset it, saying that he must have reset it using a cloud service, but an outside company examined the phone and determined that a member of the police department was responsible.
Police Chief Daniel Racine said during an interview with WPRI that he supported Barboza’s decision to arrest Thompson. Racine has still never publicly admitted that the arrest was wrongful.
The charges against Thompson were dropped on April 11, but police refused to return his phone so that they could investigate how it was reset. Police did not give Thompson his phone back until May 28, after he obtained a court order requiring them to return it.
The police department has failed to hold Barboza accountable for assaulting and wrongfully arresting Thompson, slapping Barboza with a one-day suspension after Thompson filed a complaint detailing a criminal act punishable by years in prison.
The Fall River police department also protected whichever member of its department destroyed evidence.
The person responsible for tampering with Thompson’s phone has also still has not been held accountable by the department. [Chief] Racine told WPRI that if it turned out that a member of the police department wiped the phone, he would fire them, but he later went back on his word when that turned out to be the case. When Racine announced that a member of the police department wiped the phone, he claimed that “the action was not malicious,” although he did not say how he came to that conclusion or who was responsible.
To discuss whether Fall River police officers are above the law they are sworn to uphold, you can call the Fall River police department at (508) 676-8511 or the Mayor of Fall River, William Flanagan, at 508-324-2600. Incidentally, Mayor Flanagan is facing a recall election on Decemeber 16.