Camerawoman’s Case Dismissed
by Paul Bass | Sep 14, 2012 8:01 am
Posted to: Legal Writes
A judge threw out an “interfering” charge against a woman arrested for refusing to hand over her cellphone to a sergeant she recorded stomping an out-of-control club-goer—setting the stage for a possible lawsuit against the city.
Judge Maureen Keegan took the action Thursday in state Superior Court on Elm Street.
She dismissed the interfering charge against Jennifer Gondola, the 36-year-old Ansonia woman who encountered Sgt. Chris Rubino in the Temple Street courtyard outside the Pulse nightclub in the early hours of June 2. The case sparked an internal police investigation and a possible rethinking of the police department’s policy on the rights of citizens recording the actions of cops.
“This should have happened the first time we came to court. There was never any merit to it,” Gondola’s attorney, Diane Polan, said after Keegan’s dismissal Thursday. It was her fourth court appearance in the case.
Polan said she’s now considering filing a civil suit against the City of New Haven over Gondola’s June 2 arrest.
After putting his foot on a handcuffed suspect’s head on June 2 (pictured), Rubino noticed Gondola in a crowd of bystanders recording his actions. He demanded her phone. When she said no, he had a female officer remove the phone from Gondola’s bra, then arrest Gondola. Rubino claimed he needed the video preserved as essential evidence to a crime.
An internal police investigation, prompted by a New Haven Independent story, found that Rubino used improper force in putting his foot on the suspect’s neck. The police chief suspended Rubino for 15 days.
The investigation also concluded that Rubino used “poor judgment” in arresting Gondola and seizing her camera. But the report concluded he didn’t break any department rules in doing so — because those rules are worded so poorly. The chief has promised to rewrite the rules so other officers don’t follow Rubino’s lead.
In court Thursday, Assistant State’s Attorney David Strollo cited the IA report in asking the judge to nolle the case. (That would allow the state to reopen the case if Gondola were to be arrested again in the next 13 months.) Strollo noted that the report cited Rubino for using poor judgment in making the arrest.
As a result, Strollo said, “the state feels it cannot meet its burden of proof.”
Attroney Polan then moved to have the judge dismiss the case altogether, not nolle it. The judge agreed.
Strollo also cited the video that Gondola took of Rubino’s actions. (Click on the play arrow to watch it. He told the judge that his decision to drop the case should not be interpreted “to condone [Gondola’s] aggressive and inciteful behavior dipicted on the video”
Outside the courtroom afterwards, Gondola defended her decision to video-record Rubino and speak up about his “excessive force” while urging the handcuffed suspect to refrain from acting up further with the sergeant. In the video she repeatedly warns him that the cops will “fuck [him] up” if he persists.
“I don’t think there was anything wrong with my behavior,” Gondola said.
Polan noted that the police IA report echoed the argument that Sgt. Rubino acted improperly. “What Jennifer was doing was warning the arrestee that he better knock off his behavior or he was going to get beat up worse,” she said.
The IA report may also figure into a civil suit, if Polan and Gondola decide to proceed with one.
“We are going to research the legal issues involved in bringing suit,” Polan said. “The IA report indicates a ‘failure of training,’ which may well mean the city is liable for the violation of my client’s rights.”
Gondola was asked if she felt vindicated by the judge’s decision Thursday.
“Yes I do,” she responded.
Previous stories on this case:
• Sgt. Rubino Suspended For 15 Days
• 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
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