“Turn the phone off before I smash it.”
That was the order Hartford police officer Kevin Nesta issued to Wilson Ramos last month when he noticed Ramos was recording him. The threat came only about a half minute into the recording, and from what the video shows, this seems to be the way Nesta began the interaction with Ramos.
Hartford police trotted out Deputy Chief Brian Foley to reassure the local press that this sort of behavior isn’t indicative of the department as a whole.
According to The Hartford Courant:
“That’s certainly not the image or the professionalism that we look for in our officers,” Foley said Tuesday. “We are looking at the video, and at this point that officer has been brought in and given retraining on exactly how these situations should be handled while reinforcing the need for professionalism and courtesy.
I’m not defending the officer at all. He’s been given retraining.” … “It is OK in most instances to be videotaped by our public,” the deputy chief said.”We have to learn to embrace it. … We’ve been training our guys that you’re on videotape 24-7. It’s allowed. It’s going to be an adjustment phase.”
Leaving aside the question of when Foley thinks it wouldn’t be okay for the public to record an on-duty officer, the problem with these reassuring words is that they are misleading. The First Amendment’s protection of a free press is not a new concept and police have always been subject to public scrutiny. Claiming that officers need an adjustment period to cope with people being able to observe them and record them is a farce.
The worst part is the typical hand-wringing lame line about “professionalism and courtesy.” That is a false narrative being put out by Foley and basically every other police shill forced to speak to the media in the aftermath of this kind of incident.
The problem isn’t a discourteous officer, it’s the suppression of civil rights. In this video, there is a clear threat made by Nesta to destroy Ramos’s property. That threat goes far past the point of being unprofessional.
Connecticut was weighing a bill that would allow members of the public to sue when police interfere with their attempts to record police interactions, but republicans killed it last month, expressing fear that lawsuits would be filed against the individual cops instead of the agencies. And there really should not be a need for a bill to sue over a Constitutional violation.
Perhaps a better step would be to take police leaders, like Foley, who wring their hands and ask for an “adjustment phase,” the opportunity to serve the community at McDonald’s while officers, like Nesta, get to serve time for violation of rights under the color of law.