In what a defense attorney called a “sad day” for the court system, the state has decided to proceed with a case against a woman arrested for “interfering” with a cop who had a cellphone camera removed from her bra after she refused to hand it over to him.
Police charged the woman, Jennifer Gondola of Ansonia, on the Temple Street courtyard shortly before 2 a.m. on June 4 as she and others in a crowd watched and recorded cops arresting an unruly man leaving a bar.
Her arrest is the subject of an ongoing police internal investigation into whether the officer in charge, Sgt. Chris Rubino, violated department policy on the rights of citizens to photograph police and whether he used unreasonable force against the detained man. Rubino told the Independent he did nothing wrong; he said he was acting to preserve crucial evidence in a criminal case, the video footage Gondola recorded. (Click on the play arrow to watch the video.)
Meanwhile, a state prosecutor has decided against dropping the criminal misdemeanor “interfering” charge against Gondola (pictured)—a different tack the prosecutor’s office took in a previous case involving an allegedly constitutional arrest Rubino made.
On Thursday the prosecutor, Assistant State’s Attorney David Strollo, offered to have the case indefinitely continued pending the outcome of the police internal investigation against Sgt. Rubino, according to Gondola’s lawyer, Diane Polan.
Polan said she rejected that offer, which she called outrageous. She entered a not guilty plea Thursday on Gondola’s behalf.
So the state’s case against Gondola now proceeds to a jury trial. Gondola has a Sept. 6 pre-trial court date scheduled before Judge William Holden.
“It is a sad day when prosecutors are defending the unlawful actions of police officers,” Polan said. “I’m really disappointed that [the prosecutor] can’t do the right thing here.”
“Whether he violated any rules he has to follow as a police officer has nothing to do with whether my client was lawfully arrested. There is no basis for this charge,” Polan said. She said Rubino (pictured with the handcuffed arrestee that night) had no probable cause to arrest Gondola or snatch her camera; she said the arrest violated Gondola’s Fourth Amendment constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
Asked about the decision to continue with Gondola’s prosecution, New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington Friday declined comment.
Assistant State’s Attorney Strollo, who made the decision to continue pursuing the case, was asked Friday about his decision and the constitutional implications of Rubino’s actions.
He said he would not discuss the merits of the case outside the courtroom.
“There’s a rule of ethics—3.6,” he said. “I can only discuss procedural matters. You can’t try it in the press.”
A Different Tack
Prosecutors faced a similar decision about an arrest Rubino (pictured at center above) made on Oct. 4, 1998. That case, too, hinged in part on whether he needed a warrant to take the actions he did. The case sparked one of seven internal affairs probes against Rubino; the department has found him at fault in five of the six investigations completed to date. (Click here to read about them.)
The 1998 arrest stemmed from a party on Lynwood Place. An anonymous noise complaint had come in. Rubino showed up to address to find a loud party. He knocked on the door. A partygoer saw him and “laughed at him and would not let him in,” according to memorandum about the incident written by then-Chief Mel Wearing. “[U]ltimately someone else let the officers in through another door,” according to Wearing. But Rubino wasn’t satisfied. He “singled out the non-compliant partygoer (who is not and apparently was not even believed to be the owner or renter of the premises) and arrested him for Disorderly Conduct.”
Rubino’s explanation, backed up by the police union: “[T]he partygoer became the actor responsible for the noise by not allowing the officers into the building.”
Wearing and four other supervisors concluded no probable cause existed for arrest.
“The arrest of this person ... cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be construed as anything other than a FALSE ARREST MADE WITHOUT PROBABLE CAUSE,” wrote then-Capt. Bryan Kearney. “The lingering, nagging question here is whether Officer Rubino really acted with good faith and intentions while enforcing a known statute (in his belief) which was violated, or if he was imposing punitive sanctions against [the arrestee] because the officer’s ‘feelings were hurt’ by the arrestee’s perceived actions. What is clear is that the law and the power of our office cannot be precariously employed, or utilized for vindictive purposes.”
Wrote then-Chief Wearing: “The law clearly provides that a warrantless entry must be predicated upon exigent circumstances; as a routine noise complaint does not give rise to exigent circumstances, those attending the party had the right to refuse Officer Rubino’s access to the premises until he returned with a warrant,” Wearing wrote. “The fact that Officer Rubino continues to justify his conduct in this matter as lawful, in the face of contrary feedback from such an array of supervisors, is especially troublesome. To me, it manifests either a fundamental misunderstanding of legal standards or an unwillingness to abide by them.”
The state’s attorney’s office drew the same conclusion, dropping the charges against the arrestee.
Previous stories on this case:
• FBI Drops Rubino Probe
• IA Probes Camera-Grabbing Cop For 7th Time
• State Wins Delay To “Research” Camera-Grabbing
• Video-Recorded Arrestee Disputes Police Account
• FBI Gets OK To Inspect Cop-Filmer’s Phone
• Rubino: “I’ll Be Vindicated”
• FBI Joins Beating Probe
• Sgt. Arrests Video-Taker; IA Probe Begins