Cops Arrest Reporter, Seize Camera

When two pressure cookers showed up on a Whalley Avenue sidewalk one recent late afternoon, police officers rushed to the scene. At one point, they found themselves hustling away a news reporter who got too close as he took photos. They handcuffed him, shoved him in a cruiser, grabbed his camera, and charged him with a crime.

The arrest was a footnote to a bigger story as dusk set in at rush hour on Dec. 6. The bigger story was how cops worked hard and risked their own safety under tense circumstances to protect people from what reasonably loomed as a potential disaster on the order of the Boston Marathon bombing, which had been carried out with nail-packed pressure cookers left on the street. (Thankfully these pressure cookers in Westville turned out to be empty and harmless, and the incident itself innocent.)

But the arrest of the reporter — the New Haven Independent’s David Sepulveda — is a story worth telling, too.

It is worth revisiting after the fact, for two reasons.

In a scene reminiscent of the classic film Rashomon, Sepulveda’s arrest reveals how different parties can honestly view the same scene in markedly different ways from different vantage points.

How the cops behaved after hustling Sepulveda from the scene raises separate questions. Their stated rationale for their actions suggests that, for all of New Haven’s self-congratulation about its success with community policing, two of that approach’s basic tenets remain stubbornly resistant to inculcation in the rank and file and even a district manager:

• The tenet that cops should use their discretion and view arrests as last, not first, resorts. And that they should especially try to speak with detainees to understand a situation before piling on charges.

• The tenet that cops should keep their hands off citizens’ cameras. Despite a new general order, public promises to obey it, a court order, the forced departures of two high-ranking cops, and a state law passed in part because of New Haven police misbehavior, the cops here just can’t seem to kick the camera-grabbing habit.

How The Cops Saw It

Thomas W. Breen PhotoI heard at least four separate accounts of Sepulveda’s arrest from cops at the scene. All the versions were consistent. They didn’t have time to share versions of what they saw. They weren’t making it up.

The scene unfolded on Whalley Avenue near the southeastern corner of Harrison Street, outside the public library’s Mitchell branch and across the street from Congregation Beth-El Keser Israel.

Someone had called in to the police at 4:10 p.m. to report that appearance of the pressure cookers.

Officers rushed to the scene. They evacuated the library, the synagogue, and some nearby residences. The put up police tape and blocked off intersections on Whalley Avenue. They called in the bomb squad, which set up its van on Whalley a half block west of Harrison. Detective Rosa Melendez donned a protective suit to approach one of the pressure cookers, X-ray photograph its contents, return to the van to have the photos analyzed, then repeat the procedure with the second pressure cooker. That took a while.

Meanwhile, patrol officers kept people away. At one point they saw Sepulveda on Whalley near the location of the pressure cookers. He had out his camera. He was taking pictures.

The officers yelled at him: Get away from there! Right now!

They saw him remain there — and crouch down, as though, in their telling, he was defying them and trying to evade them. They kept yelling, then got dangerously closer to the scene to escort him away.

Already tense because of the potential danger of the scene, they were furious at what they viewed as Sepulveda’s noncompliance with their order. They handcuffed Sepulveda, who is 64 years old, right away. Then they brought him to a parked cruiser blocking traffic at Emerson and Whalley. They took his Canon 7D camera. They placed him in the cruiser. They planned to drive him later to police headquarters and charge him with multiple offenses.

The Decision To Arrest

David Sepulveda PhotoI was waiting with Independent reporter Markeshia Ricks at the bus stop on the Green at 4:20 p.m. when I first got word of the bomb threat. By coincidence, we were waiting to take a B bus to that intersection, because we were participating in an event scheduled that night at Beth El-Keser Israel (where I’m a congregant). Sponsored by Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority of African-American college-educated women, the event was a forum on the significance to New Haven of Donald Trump’s election.

Realizing it would take a while to arrive at the scene, I called Sepulveda, who lives a few blocks away from Harrison and Whalley. I asked him to go to the scene to interview evacuees and take pictures until I could arrive.

We decided not to take the B bus, since Whalley Avenue would inevitably be backed up because of the intersection closings. We waited for the Q bus, which travels down Edgewood, then over to Fountain.

As the bus neared the corner of Alden and Fountain, I was startled to see no police tape or any cruiser or any cops blocking the intersection of Harrison — even though that was the closest entry point to the scene.

I checked in with the police by phone, and was told not to enter that way. So Ricks and I got off at Emerson and walked to Whalley, where Sepulveda was handcuffed inside the patrol car far from the scene.

Markeshia Ricks PhotoOfficer Chris Landucci was by the cruiser, writing up Sepulveda. I asked him about the arrest. He and a colleague patiently explained how they were telling Sepulveda to get away from the pressure cookers. (Click on the video at the top of this story to watch that conversation.)

“There’s a police line. He’s not supposed to be beyond it. Nobody’s supposed to be out there except guys with bomb suits,” Landucci said. “We had to ask him several times” before Sepulveda complied.

Landucci imitated how instead of leaving, Sepulveda crouched down. He portrayed it as an elusive action.

“If you saw it,” he said, “you would be like, ‘What is he doing over there?’”

I asked him if it was necessary to arrest Sepulveda rather than simply escort him from the danger area.

“It doesn’t work like that,” Landucci informed me. “‘Interfering with a police investigation.’ You understand? That’s the end of the story.”

In fact, police officers make decisions every day about whether to arrest someone and whether to press charges. They have discretion. They don’t have to arrest someone just because they can. Of course sometimes arrests are necessary, but sometimes they’re unnecessary, and sometimes they make a problem worse. Often they’re a way for officers angry about a citizen’s conduct at a tense scene to retaliate, especially when it comes to that catch-all offense “interfering with a police officer,” which translates into common parlance as “we can arrest you whenever we feel like it, and at least in New Haven, the state’s attorney always sticks by us.”

Advocates of community policing — including top police officials in their public pronouncements — argue that often it makes more sense not to aggravate a situation and place someone in the criminal justice system with an arrest. They say it makes sense to talk with people to resolve a situation first and understand it. If an arrest can be prevented, it should be, especially if a person who briefly appeared to disobey a request becomes fully compliant.

I asked Landucci to speak with Sepulveda. No dice. “You’ll be able to talk to him. In a moment,” he responded. That turned out to be the one untruth he uttered.

The Camera-Grab

 

I approached Sgt. Renee Dominguez, Westville’s top cop (a.k.a. district manager). She told the same story.

Dominguez was still fuming about Sepulveda’s actions. She said she was determined to charge him with a host of offenses. I apologized for his alleged disobedience of the order to move from the scene. And I didn’t contest her version of events; reporters have an understanding with the police that at crime scenes we have to obey their orders and not get in the way of their doing their jobs. If we disagree with an order, we wait until they’re finished with the job and everyone’s safe before arguing about it. Plus, I hadn’t yet heard Sepulveda’s side.

I asked Dominguez if she had to pile charges up on Sepulveda. She said she had no choice. I asked if I could speak with him. No luck.

Several other officers at the scene, including a supervisor, huddled with Dominguez. I wasn’t privy to the conversation, but they clearly talked her down a bit. She was now planning to limit the arrest to two misdemeanors, interfering with a police officer and — despite the fact that the police had failed to block off the Fountain-Harrison intersection and Sepulveda had never crossed a marked police line — trespassing.

But Dominguez said she wasn’t going to let him just walk. She had a point to make.

And she still had his Canon 7D camera. Which supposedly contained crucial evidence in a big-time criminal “investigation” — of the allegedly noncompliant photographer.

Dominquez returned to the cruiser to chat with Sepulveda. I asked to be present at the conversation. She refused.

I remembered what happened when another top cop — then an assistant chief — disapproved of a citizen taking photos of a crime scene with a cell phone. He ordered that citizen arrested, confiscated his cellphone — and, according to the findings of a subsequent internal investigation, ordered an officer to erase the camera’s memory card. I remembered how another sergeant grabbed a different citizen’s cellphone camera and arrested her after she video-recorded him roughing up a handcuffed arrestee. I was concerned about how Dominguez would deal with Sepulveda.

I followed Dominguez to the cruiser. She shot me a glare. She and Landucci ordered me in a threatening tone to back away — the first step, in my experience, to an arrest threat for “interfering.”

“Get back!” she yelled, glaring with fury that hadn’t abated since her initial apprehension of Sepulveda more than a half hour earlier.

So I kept my distance. I didn’t trust what Dominguez would do next (why else the need to do it privately?), but I didn’t want to risk a second arrest.

I found out later that my fears were justified. She told Sepulveda he could have the camera back but she wanted his memory card first. Thankfully Sepulveda, despite having been detained and handcuffed for over a half hour, had the presence of mind not to agree to turn it over. She had no warrant for it. Or any good reason for it.

Finally, he was released with a summons to appear in court.

How Sepulveda Saw It

Markeshia Ricks PhotoThen I finally got to hear Sepulveda’s side of the story. I believed his version, too — even though it was markedly different.

He said he had walked up to the scene from Fountain Street. He never encountered police tape or police barricades from his approach from Fountain Street. Sepulveda spotted the pressure cookers but said he gave them a wide berth.

From across the street, he started taking photos. He’s a professional photographer. Photographers often crouch when they shoot an object on the ground. He crouched. To the cops that looked like an evasive action. (Or as Officer Landucci put it, “What’s he doing over there?”) In Sepulveda’s view, he was doing his job. And concentrating on it.

He was also using a flash because of the darkness and said he was not trying to hide.

He said that the moment he was told to leave the scene, he started back up. The cops said they had to yell at him several times. I believe both of them — I believe Sepulveda was concentrating on taking that quick photo, then realized he was being yelled at, and and walked backward, heeding police directives to get back.

“‘I’m backing up!’” Sepulveda remembered telling them as they yelled at him. “I wanted them to know I was following their directions.”

Either way, it was a brief encounter. Sepulveda did not after that brief moment act in any way that could be construed as defying police orders and was wearing an exterior ID badge.

He said the officers and Sgt. Dominguez rebuked him, then led him to the police car a block away at Emerson. He explained he was a reporter taking photos. He explained that no one had told him not to, that he hadn’t crossed any blocked-off areas.

Dominguez grabbed his jacket from behind and “pushed me forward like I didn’t have the ability to walk,” Sepulveda recalled.

At the police car, the cops went through his pockets, took his wallet, took his phone, emptied all his personal possessions onto the car hood, he recalled. “We will have to take your camera,” he recalled Dominguez telling him.

“Why?” he asked.

“For evidence,” she replied.

“Evidence of what?” he asked.

He remained in the car for at least a half hour. Dominguez at one point returned and informed him that she might take the memory card from his camera and hold onto it. He raised his eyebrows and shook his head in objection. She then asked him to show her the photos on the camera, he said. So he did. To her surprise, there were just a few photos, from a distance, of the pressure cookers.

The camera and personal items were returned after handcuffs had been removed a good 30 minutes after the incident began.

Sepulveda was understandably upset after his release from the car: “I was on public property and crossed no police barriers. Their perimeter was set way back up Whalley Avenue. They were angry because they perceived their perimeter had been breeched; I came from an entirely different direction.  I kept what I considered a safe distance, but they were ready to trump up charges — and did,” he concluded.

But he didn’t want to make himself the story. He told me how much he values the work the police do and the dangerous situations they place themselves in to protect us.

An NHPD Disease

Still, the incident continued to eat at him. He felt unfairly treated and unnecessarily arrested.

It continued eating at me, too, for days. For years we and others in the public have wrestled with this police department on the question of cameras and citizens’ general rights. Despite repeated promises to the contrary, the department doesn’t even begin to take citizens’ rights seriously.

After that assistant chief, Ariel Melendez, had to retire from the force in the wake of a devastating police report — revealing him as a liar and a thug trampling on citizen’s constitutional rights — the department wrote a new general order. They told cops that except in rare circumstances, they can’t take people’s cameras. They trained officers at the academy in the new order.

Then came that second incident involving the officer taking the citizen’s cellphone and arresting her. (Above is the video she took that angered the officer.) The police chief at the time said he couldn’t discipline the officer based on the general order, because he considered the general order poorly drafted. (He did discipline the officer, who subsequently retired, for excessive force in the handling of the other arrestee in the case.)

An attorney in both cases, the late Diane Polan, filed suit against the city on behalf of both citizens. The city settled the suit by paying $31,500 and making a promise in a consent decree to rewrite the general order and train officers in it. It then took years to make a minor tweak in the order to rewrite it.

And department brass continued to look the other way as officers violated citizens’ rights. A high-ranking cop slapped a cellphone to the ground in a Wal-Mart parking lot when a citizen video-recorded her in a dispute; then, according to an internal investigation, she lied about it. She wasn’t disciplined. She was promoted.

At a tense scene outside a liquor store on Whalley another evening, officers demanded that a distraught woman named Tyeisha Hellamns, a friend of an arrestee, back up from the scene while she took video. She refused. So they escorted her away. Instead of de-escalating the situation — in the style of special training brass made a public show of bragging about bringing to the department — the officer swore at and threatened the woman, took away her phone, and arrested her.

The officer had a legal right to arrest her. She had “interfered.” He also had the ability not to arrest her. Unlike a news photographer, the woman didn’t have an editor nearby to make her case. And she had more to lose in being thrust into the criminal justice system. Meanwhile, the officer’s rude treatment of the woman — watch it in the above video — violated New Haven’s stated policy of how to interact with the public, a crucial part of either building or losing trust with the public. He arrested Hellamns to make a point. The point he inadvertently ended up making is that some New Haven police aren’t so different from the cops we read about in other cities, after all.

New Haven’s police chief at the time spent days defending the officer. He finally acknowledged that the woman shouldn’t have been arrested (though he made no public statements about it). But there were no repercussions.

I’m not suggesting that cops should be fired, or even disciplined, in many of the tense situations in which they have to make fast judgments. Policing is a dangerous, difficult job. New Haven’s cops are dedicated public servants, some of the hardest-working people I know. They risk their lives for us. They deserve the room to make well-intentioned misjudgments.

But cops, like any public servants, should expect to have their actions and judgments reviewed by the public, and monitored by their supervisors. We entrust officers with awesome powers, to deprive us of our liberties or even our lives. Those officers are the products of their training and continued supervision.

And there’s no excuse for supervisors who fundamentally disrespect supposed agreed-upon policies and approaches of community policing. Or can’t control their temper.

When it comes to training and supervising cops in the area of respecting citizens’ rights, the department has failed. (See the above video and click here for a story about another example of anti-community policing. The officer in that case made an unconstitutional claim that he had the right to arrest a protester outside a restaurant because a diner inside complained that his wife didn’t like hearing the protest. In that case, too, the police chief never expressed the slightest concern with or disagreement with the officer’s actions or rationale.)

Just this past week the department promoted an officer to detective who’s being sued for, among other offenses, allegedly seizing a $700 cellphone camera from an irate citizen who recorded him during an arrest. (No sign of the phone-camera since.) The citizen said that when his lawyer later sought to have the phone returned, the police said it had been lost. Of course there are two sides to the story; the officer denies the charge. But it’s telling that higher-up cops didn’t even know about the lawsuit or the camera accusation when they made the promotion. The city’s own attorney in the case had been working on the case for months. He was familiar with the court file, which mentioned the camera charge. But even now the city isn’t taking camera accusations seriously. Supervisors never even heard about a supposedly missing camera.

A Suggested Rx

Don Wunderlee PhotoAt this point camera-grabbing by New Haven police officers — and ignoring or making excuses for it at higher levels —is a medical condition in the NHPD, a disease that requires drastic measures to obliterate.

Here’s a suggested prescription for the department: Make the camera rule simpler. No camera-grabbing. Period. Ever. No “interference” arrests involving a camera. Ever.

And then enforce the rule. Discipline officers who flagrantly violate it. In cases that involve poor judgment but don’t merit discipline, at least talk about it — send the rank and file the right message, and share that message with a skeptical public. Hold district managers accountable when they lead their officers astray and set the wrong example.

Yes, there are isolated cases in which an officer may by law or department policy take away a camera. Rare cases. There are exceptions that allow it, but those exceptions are more often invoked to excuse the inexcusable, to bully, to seek revenge for minor misbehavior, or to punish citizens for seeking to hold police officers accountable for their actions.

So for now, officers need to hear that their supervisors order them never to take anyone’s phone or camera. Period. Even if they think they need to. Even if they think it’s legal.

If a police officer is angry at a citizen for using a camera, or for not instantly moving with that camera as far away from a scene or as fast as the officer thinks they should, the officer can escort that citizen away. But don’t arrest them. Don’t charge them with “interfering.” Because the police’s cavalier use of that term has rendered it meaningless.

Officers might want to talk with people before slapping on handcuffs and arresting them on criminal charges. They might see another side to the story.

No harm will come to the officers or the public if people keep their cameras. Even unpleasant people who lack proper respect for the cops. A phone’s not a gun.

In fact, such a directive might help build respect for the cops. Which will make the cops, and the rest of us, safer.

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Comments

posted by: breakingbad23 on December 16, 2016  7:54am

Wow, sounds like a bad search of his person also. Police have the authority to search someone based on their lawful custodial arrest, not when giving out a misdemeanor summons.

posted by: Realmom21 on December 16, 2016  8:04am

as a reporter you are just that .You are not a part of the investigating team. nor are you trained or authorized. You might have beena trigger to those potential explosives.Police dont know what your reasons, purpose,experience etc.. nor do they have any idea what will trigger something to explode.Like you said you stayed what you considered a reasonable distance..you are not responsible for anyone they are.. when your body might have been splatter your family and their attorneys would have argued that the police failed to protect you. what if you were trying to make a point against officers and wanted to commit suicide by cop. what if what if what if….what if the pictures you were tryimg to take and publish released info the dept wasnt ready for the public to know about an investigation.. Your expectations of officers to be effective , protective , considerative, gentle cant always happen at the same time. Reality check the current generation of officers were actually very generous in letting you off with a ticket. Stop being so selfissh and realize theymay have saved not only YOUR life but that of many others. If they took the time to clear buildings how do you think being across the street in the open was a safe zone…Think beyond yourself if those officers saw you go poof they would have had to live with that too.

posted by: SparkJames on December 16, 2016  8:31am

NHPD should have closed off Harrison st. at Fountain. That’s a very short stretch of street and there are plenty of pedestrians in the area.
Their mistake.

posted by: TheMadcap on December 16, 2016  8:37am

“when your body might have been splatter your family and their attorneys would have argued that the police failed to protect you”

No they wouldn’t because the supreme court has already ruled the police has no legal obligation to protect anyone.

posted by: T-ski1417 on December 16, 2016  8:43am

@breakingbad23

You are wrong, a misdemeanor summons is an arrest just non-custodial so yes they can conduct a search incident to a arrest. Also his camera was not seized it was returned.

@realmom21

Well said…..

posted by: alphabravocharlie on December 16, 2016  9:03am

A few observations:

This piece should be identified as what it is, opinion.

There is no need for name calling. Ret. AC Melendez (whose daughter donned the bomb suit in this incident) is not a liar and a thug.

Sgt. Dominguez was annoyed. We get it. You don’t have to keep harping on it.

Bombs are serious business. If you can see the bomb, the bomb can “see” you. Distance and shielding = safety.

Police officers have discretion to make or not make arrests. Making an arrest does not make them wrong although by the facts presented by you, it is debatable whether the scene was adequately marked off.

The camera thing seems to be a problem. We don’t hear about these issues elsewhere. Maybe things will improve when police officers get their own cameras.

posted by: Patricia Kane on December 16, 2016  9:11am

Either the police have to follow the rules or we’ll have a paramilitary force dictating what civilians can and can’t do.
Legislation is pending before the Health & Safety Committee of the Board of Alders to restore the Civilian Review Board. It has been pending for 3 years.
Mayors are responsible for the Police Department, but never want to confront their power because of the sometimes mindless support from the public. I still remember billboards in Stamford paid for by the police union attacking Dannel Malloy when he was Mayor. It was not a pleasant sight.
A Civilian Review Board would be an independent force to support good police practices and would give the public confidence in the oversight of the Chief and the Mayor.
There can be NO good reason for not getting a Civilian Review Board in place and fast.
Once a disaster has occurred, it’s too late.

posted by: LookOut on December 16, 2016  9:21am

its amazing that any of the New Haven cops don’t quit the NHPD and find a better city in which to work.  While dealing with a Bomb Threat, someone with a device of some sort is hanging around what could be explosives and not leaving when ordered to do so.  When they take action to make things safer for the community, they suddenly have others sticking cameras in their face and questioning how they do their job. Wow.  The department absolutely has had some officers behave poorly in the past but this activity and story are not helpful

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 16, 2016  9:26am

If he had a press pass like the one the NYPD gives out. He would not have had a problem.

Applicants must be a member of the media who covers, in person, emergency, spot or breaking news events and/or public events of a non-emergency nature, where police, fire lines or other restrictions, limitations, or barriers established by the City of New York have been set up for security or crowd control purposes, within the City of New York; or covers, in person, events sponsored by the City of New York which are open to members of the press.

http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/downloads/pdf/press_relations/Press_Credentials_Application.pdf

posted by: alphabravocharlie on December 16, 2016  10:09am

Ms. Patricia Kane

New Haven already has a Civilian Review Board. It’s called the Board of Police Commissioners.

posted by: southwest on December 16, 2016  10:43am

Yes police have a difficult job but some are Cokey and on a power trip..attitude is I can do what I want to do because I’m a cop…Sgt Dominguez is a little power hungry and have allowed strips to go to her head…I observed her talking to some citizens one day when they were just asking intelligence question and you would have thought they asked to use her gun..most younger cops are on a power trip to make their points…please I’m sick and tired of that retraing saga it’s just a cop out…to make the department look good so the officer can keep his or her job and the taxpayers pick up the tab when sued…plus I guarantee you none of them live in the city of New Haven so it don’t effect their taxes because they are here to make money off the citizens of New Haven…

posted by: Patricia Kane on December 16, 2016  10:47am

Alphabravocharlie:

Does it have subpoena power?
Does it conduct hearings on complaints against police?
Fill me in.

posted by: Mister Jones on December 16, 2016  11:38am

My experience: Cops and other public safety personnel often have little patience in the heat of the moment, mid-crisis. They are focused on their job, not necessarily with grace under pressure, and want their barked orders obeyed immediately, and don’t want civilians in the way.

I’m not defending the cops. Sure looks like they overreacted. But they get scared too, which explains things.

FWIW, I drove by twice, up and down Fountain Street, without knowing what the problem was, and only saw a squad car blocking Philip Street, not Harrison.

posted by: Mark Oppenheimer on December 16, 2016  12:00pm

LookOut and RealMom21: You have given no reason why the camera had to be taken. The reality is that the police don’t have a right to take cameras unless they have a warrant or the camera is being used as a weapon against them. People have a right to take pictures—and if police are doing their job properly, as they so often are, they have nothing to fear from pictures being around (especially pictures of a pressure cooker). This isn’t a judgment call: this is law, to protect you and me. As somebody who was once arrested for “interfering” when I had not touched the police officer—just annoyed him, by asking questions—I can tell you that it is a catch-all that /some/—by no means all—police use to punish people who annoy them. But police have no right not to be annoyed. Like school teachers, firemen, short-order cooks, soldiers, and mayors, sometimes people will get under their skin. That’s not a criminal offense, and it’s not arrestable. And even if there is an arrest, they have no right to take people’s cameras or erase their memory cards (if they wanted evidence, they’d want to preserve the memory cards, not erase them).

posted by: alphabravocharlie on December 16, 2016  12:30pm

Ms. Patricia Kane

Refer to Title 7, Chapter 104 of the Connecticut General Statutes.

posted by: normalcitizen123 on December 16, 2016  12:45pm

Paul Bass should be ashamed of himself for writing this article. NHPD absolutely did the right thing here, especially under the circumstances of a major threat to citizens, NHPD, and the journalists on the scene. Mr. Bass is simply using this as an outlet to defend his buddy with the camera, who entered the police area where a bomb scare was being investigated. This is an OPINION article, and should be classified as such. They were also in the right to take Sepulveda’s camera, return it to him, and just ask to see the pictures - they didn’t take the memory card or camera, and didn’t delete the pictures, simply wanted to see why Sepulveda thought it would be a good idea to run around a bomb investigation scene.

What was the point of the second half of the article? Sepulveda got his camera back. How is this a “medical condition” Paul?

tldr - this is a poorly thought out and written article that I wish I could have the 3 minutes of my life I spent reading it back.

[Paul: Thank you for the comment. This is labeled as an opinion article, at the top. The point of the article is not to criticize the officers for how they handled the original two-second incident. It was what happened after — handcuffing the reporter, illegally taking his camera, seeking his memory card, and charging him with offenses without bothering to ask (and find out) that they had failed to block off access to the area; not bothering, before pressing charges, that photographers crouch to take pictures of objects on the ground, not to try to hide in plain sight form police; or that the reporter did immediately start walking backward and saying so the moment he heard them. The point is also to question why a supervisor escalated the situation, saw an arrest as a first rather than last resort, in opposition to the stated goals of community policing, and why she apparently is reinforcing this first-resort approach with young officers. The camera issue in particular is a troubling long-term trend at the department. And when someone has been handcuffed and locked in a car for half an hour, without permission to talk to anyone like a lawyer or an editor on site, and then the furious supervisor responsible for his arrest and detention comes back in and “asks” to obtain the memory card from his camera — that is not “just asking to see pictures.”]

posted by: Bradley on December 16, 2016  1:00pm

I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t see how simply prostrating oneself constitutes interfering with a police officer. CGS Sec.53a-167a prohibits a person from obstructing, resisting, hindering, or endangering a peace officer. I don’t know how you can do any of these things by lying down, at least under the circumstances described in the article.  CGS Sec. 14-223 makes it a crime to disobey an officer’s direction, but this provision explicitly applies to motorists, not pedestrians.

posted by: Brutus2011 on December 16, 2016  1:25pm

Sounds like a Terry stop to me.

Officers really cannot conduct a stop and frisk under these circumstances unless the officers reasonably believe that a weapon is present. Here it could be argued that the cell phone could be a detonation device if the pressure cookers actually were bomb.s However, it is unlikely that a perp would detonate a bomb within the blast radius if he had the capability to detonate remotely. Exigent circumstances also did not appear to exist.

Confiscating the phone could be very likely ruled as improper.

But, I also have to say that the officers were in a potentially dangerous position while trying to protect folks as the pressure cookers could have been filled with who knows what.

I thank the officers for their service but hope that they are more careful in the future.

The comment above about a paramilitary force is appropriate and it could happen here in the U.S. if we citizens are not vigilant.

posted by: RobotShlomo on December 16, 2016  1:27pm

I’m curious to know what psychological evaluation there is in the NHPD, when it comes to prospective recruits. Are they getting recruits that want to be police officers for the right reasons?

Really, with cellphones having cameras in them, unless there’s a systemic problem with recruitment why are departments still struggling this?

posted by: Matt Higbee on December 16, 2016  1:37pm

I also had a very unpleasant encounter with Sgt. Dominguez this summer when she threatened to arrest me for walking along Yale Avenue because the tennis tournament had closed it off to anyone who did not have a VIP badge. As in David’s case, she escalated the encounter. Even though I agreed to comply and turn around, she escorted me back to Chapel Street by walking closely behind as if I was a threat. This was after I identified myself and told her she should recognize me because I’ve said “Hi” to her many times at Edgewood School and other public places.

When a district manger resorts to the arrest or threat of arrest of law-abiding neighbors in her own district during situations that can be resolved with basic communication skills, what are we talking about when we say we have “community policing?”

posted by: SparkJames on December 16, 2016  1:59pm

Also, any headway on who placed those two pressure cookers on the sidewalk like that?
They did look a tad provocative and not so much “free to a good home”, or “good photographer”.

[Ed.: Here you go: http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/rice_cooker_bomb/ ]

posted by: 1644 on December 16, 2016  2:20pm

Seriously, Paul, what does Trump have to do with this story?  Did he plant the pressure cookers?  Moreover, as others have pointed out, the cops did NOT seize a camera.  The seized a CELL PHONE, which happened to have a camera in it.  The key difference being that cell phones send electronic signals that are used to detonate IEDs.  If your reporters want to take pictures near a possible IED, they should not mindlessly create further tension by openly displaying an IED trigger.  Let them use a CAMERA. The cops acted responsible to prevent any triggering of a suspected IED, as I would hope they would have don before or after Trump, who, by the way, isn’t even in office.  I guess the old “It’s Bushes fault” is now replaced by, “It’s Trump fault.”

(Paul: They did not confiscate a cell phone. This was a regular camera, as the story reported.)

posted by: Mark Oppenheimer on December 16, 2016  2:22pm

NormalCitizen123: The point is that police don’t have the right to take your camera any more than they have the right to take your notepad. People are allowed to take pictures of stuff and to write stuff. You seem to be of the school that police can just do what they want, because they are police.

posted by: nero on December 16, 2016  2:25pm

alphabravocharlie: Thanks for the reference to Title 7, Chapter 104 of the Connecticut General Statutes to answer Ms Kane’s question about the subpoena powers of a Board of Police Commissioners, but Chapter 104 contains more than 20 sections that would fill a small phone book. Could you narrow your answer to a section that is actually helpful? Thanks.

Thanks to The Independent for this insightful piece about how police can both protect citizens and abuse their power to torment us. All police states claim to do their evil in an effort to protect citizens for the greater good. I imagine that individual officers look at themselves in the mirror and tell themselves that they act the way they do for the public’s protection. It ain’t true. If peace officers are abusing their power, they are helping no one but themselves and a corrupt system. In New Haven, this must stop.

Video cameras are as dangerous to bad cops as weapons. In the absence of citizens’ video documentation, it was always the police officers word against the citizens—and the police almost always won. Video documentation has exposed bad cops for the liars they are. Of course an officer in the wrong wants to confiscate the evidence. Bad cops fear that the truth will become public. Video cameras endanger a bad cop’s job. It’s sickening that citizens have to fear cops as well as robbers.

When good cops stop protecting bad cops this system of injustice will end.

posted by: Bill Saunders on December 16, 2016  2:33pm

I have often wondered why ‘the threat of arrest’ is one of the first items pulled out of the community policing toolbox. 
Quite often, this threat is ‘ill-founded’ and is nothing more than bullying in an effort to establish superiority,  creating an escalating situation where action ‘needs’ to be taken.

I am sorry this happened to you, David. 
You are lucky that you weren’t brought down to the lock-up, or pepper sprayed. 
These things have been known to happen in our fair town….

It will be interesting to see how these ‘charges’ are dispensed with….. 
Afterall, the real punishment is the judicial process, itself.

Good Luck!

posted by: RetiredNHPD2013 on December 16, 2016  2:36pm

So a reporter is arrested for not listening and putting himself and COPS in danger and the debate is can the COPS do this.  Simply put, YES.  It’s true that a street may not have been blocked off, but if you have any common sense you know that when the police have an active incident and you are in their way or putting yourself or them in harms way you should do what you’re told by them.

Phones and Cameras, here’s an example;  someone you know or love is the victim of a crime that the police interrupt, let’s say a rape, and the rape is being recorded on a phone by another person, do the police have the right to seize the phone?  Yes, where the search warrant comes in is when you want to look at what is on the phone, but we can take it without the search warrant.  But here’s 1 of the 7 exceptions to the Search Warrant Rule, Exigency.  So the reporter takes the picture of the suspected device and those photo’s can help the police diffuse or show its a bogus device, then no search warrant is needed, the police can look at the photo’s without a warrant.  Public Safety always comes FIRST.

Know that if you record a crime and the police see you recording it we can and will take your phone as evidence and complete a Search Warrant for it.  By the way we are no different if I had recorded or taken photos at a crime scene my phone could be seized also.  Why can we take the phone, its portable, can be bleached, destroyed or thrown in the ocean and it’s evidence! 

I know Renee, Sergeant Dominguez.  She knows what she is doing and with everything going on in the world today she was not inappropriate.  Serious incidents require serious personnel, who take everything seriously.  Two pressure cookers across from a synagogue is a serious incident.

Lastly, Paul you should not been involved or allowed to speak with your reporter.  Arrestee’s are in POLICE CUSTODY and the COPS responsibility.  This should be a lesson learned.  I will say I’m surprised at you.

posted by: Mark Oppenheimer on December 16, 2016  3:03pm

RetiredNHPD2013 : So, two questions: 1) Are you saying the confiscation of the camera here was because Sgt. Dominguez thought there might be an image on it that the reporter got that the police needed as evidence? Like, an up-close shot of the pressure cookers that everybody could see? Really? Or was it to punish and intimidate the reporter? 2) Do you think that the arrest was the way to go here? Shouldn’t arrests be a last resort? 3) If you thought this was an example of over-reaction, would you say so?

posted by: T-ski1417 on December 16, 2016  3:10pm

@retirednhpd2013

Well stated and completely correct

posted by: nyambol on December 16, 2016  3:21pm

Why is it acceptable for armed police officers to behave irrationally and emotionally under pressure, but unarmed citizens are supposed to be cool as the proverbial cucumber?

Members of the armed forces who behave this way find themselves in the stockade or brig in pretty short order, and thence out of uniform.

The consensus of opinion seems to be that expecting officers to behave rationally in a crisis is just too great of an expectation. They just aren’t up to it. I say, if indeed that is true, then we need a higher caliber of officers.

I don’t want my life dependent on an armed individual who’s in a panic.

posted by: new havener on December 16, 2016  3:51pm

interesting article, the most obvious issue noted is cops and cameras…a difficult leeson too learn.

the less-stated, but more troubling aspect, to me, is Police propensity to levy as as many charges as possible in order to make one stick, or validate arrests through plea-bargaining other charges down. Sgt Dominguez certainly uses that tact. Perhaps the new Chief can reign this practice in…

posted by: new haven can do better on December 16, 2016  4:43pm

Cops and Cameras and unlawful arrests seem to be quite common. A lawsuit filed in June of this year alleges the same thing in a different incident. Ironically, the City has gone on to promote one of the defendants, Conklin, to Detective before the case has even be adjudicated. 

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
DENNIS R. SRFILIPPI : : VS. : CIVIL ACTION NO. : DANIEL R. CONKLIN and : SGT. RENTKOWICZ : JUNE 13, 2016

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 16, 2016  4:57pm

Sepulveda was understandably upset after his release from the car: “I was on public property and crossed no police barriers. Their perimeter was set way back up Whalley Avenue. They were angry because they perceived their perimeter had been breeched; I came from an entirely different direction.  I kept what I considered a safe distance, but they were ready to trump up charges — and did,” he concluded.

Notice he said I was on public property and crossed no police barriers. Their perimeter was set way back up Whalley Avenue.Now if this was true why was he arrested.I wonder if Reporters from wtnh or NBC would have been treated the same way.Also from what I understand there is suppose to be a spot for the Reporters to stand at.

posted by: RetiredNHPD2013 on December 16, 2016  5:18pm

Oppenheimer, Im simply stating the rules.  I would have called my Bomb Techs and showed them the photo’s, no asking no SW.  Remember Public Safety First, Exigency As far as the arrest that is up to the individual cop.  I will say that if I tell you its dangerous and leave immediately, walking backwards slowly taking pictures is like telling me to f@#! off.  If someone said to me those may be bombs that will kill us, I would turn and run.  Now a question for you.  If someone broke your car window on purpose and I decided I was going to let him go, because after all I have discretion, how would you feel.

I was a COP in that city for a long time under 9 chiefs, I am and was always honest and would not tarnish my Integrity or Badge for anyone.  And I truly Cared.  You have a better than good Police Department and you should appreciate it.

[Paul: The bomb techs already took their own X-ray photos.]

posted by: Brutus2011 on December 16, 2016  5:20pm

to RetiredNHPD2013

I respectfully disagree, re: exigency.

I would love to face you, and those who agree with you, in court.

Anyway, Happy Holidays to all….

posted by: alphabravocharlie on December 16, 2016  5:42pm

Article 7, Sec. 3 of the City charter establishes the powers of the BOPC (hire, fire, promote, demote, discipline, etc.)

Sec 7-279 of the CGS gives BOPCs subpoena power. Everything you seek is already there.

posted by: JaneAtPeopleAgainstInjustice on December 16, 2016  9:42pm

This is simply absolutely incorrect:

—posted by: RetiredNHPD2013 “Know that if you record a crime and the police see you recording it we can and will take your phone as evidence and complete a Search Warrant for it.”

—posted by: T-ski1417 “@retirednhpd2013, Well stated and completely correct”

Conn Gen Statues:

Sec. 54-33j. Issuance of search warrant for property of journalist or news organization. (a) No search warrant, as provided in section 54-33a, may be issued to search any place or seize anything in the possession, custody or control of any journalist or news organization unless such warrant is issued upon probable cause that such person or organization has committed or is committing the offense related to the property named in the warrant or such property constitutes contraband or an instrumentality of a crime.
(b) Nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting the right to subpoena any such evidence if such subpoena is otherwise permitted by law.
(P.A. 79-14, S. 2.)

Not a new law, officers—It was enacted in 1979. And this is in addition to strong preexisting First Amendment protections. This statute served only to try to spell it out more clearly, and plant some explicit statutory barriers to settle the issue. But it isn’t working. So what is it going to take?

Implied in some of these responses as well is that the Community Policing policy positions described in this article are just words and that the force should not only be allowed to flaunt them, it should be thanked for it. It’s time the community stop thanking police for both their good conduct and their violation of public policies set by this community and violation of laws and rights as well.

When police don’t set a perimeter, they have to communicate it. In very dangerous situations they may have to scream it, but they don’t get to arrest someone who used best judgment then tried to comply immediately to direction. These officers aren’t correct.

posted by: Bill Saunders on December 17, 2016  1:18am

Mark Op,

From the angle of one of the photos in a previous article,  those rice cookers looked like they were plugged in.
Now that would have been a real problem.

I refuse to play into this paranoid, fear-based narrative, and the cops need a real wake up call here.

The next thing you know latino kids will be spraying anti-trump grafitti on high schools and NHI will be calling it a hate crime.

posted by: Arod on December 17, 2016  8:03am

Hey, Peter Parker you need to stay out of the way, you know you remind me of the movie nightcrawler ,where the reporter make his own news and records it . All you had to do was place the pot and watch the scene unfold .you may not have placed the pots but you know you werent going on the B bus ,you saw another way to get a closer angle and latter justified your disobeying the police officer warnings with this lame excuse .Stop acting like a mope and be profesional not only was your life at risk but you endangered all those at the scene if it happened to be a live artifact and you were stop ,the cop would have been a hero ,now for doing his job and stopping some jerk from detanating a bomb and posiblly killing everyone around he is a called a bully, there has to be a line between responsible journalism and reckless endangerment.remember those cops have family and friends who want them to go home, not lose thier lives because of some dumbass with a çamera especially on the holidays so get back on the B bus and get a real job stop making shit up you might live longer, the next one might go off in your face.

posted by: T-ski1417 on December 17, 2016  5:59pm

@Paul

I noticed that you put in one of your replies that the bomb techs took their own x-rays of the items. What are you saying/implying?

(Paul: that they didn’t need David’s photos.)

posted by: T-ski1417 on December 17, 2016  6:02pm

@billsaunders

You said if they were plugged in that would have been a real problem so because they were not plugged in they are not an issue? Can you explain why that is?

posted by: nero on December 17, 2016  9:15pm

RetiredNHP has distilled the problem down to its essence: ” I will say that if I tell you its dangerous and leave immediately, walking backwards slowly taking pictures is like telling me to f@#! off.”

When the police yelled at the photographer to leave the area, if he had turned and run it would have shown the proper respect. Because he backed away slowly still taking pictures, he clearly showed a lack of respect for these law enforcement officers.

Too often in this country, disrespecting a police officer has become a capital crime. If a cop even perceives that you’re not being subservient enough, you can be cuffed, arrested, jailed or even shot dead. From Rodney King to Sandra Bland, American citizens pay a heavy price for lack of blind obedience—or just a bad cop having a bad day.

Until police begin to seriously police themselves, and civilian review boards begin the work of culling the bad apples from police forces—this country will continue sliding into a state where the most feared characters aren’t the criminals, but the cops who are supposed to protect and serve.I feel sorriest for the majority of dedicated, good cops who are tainted by this authoritarian power-tripping. It’s a damn shame.

posted by: T-ski1417 on December 17, 2016  10:18pm

@paul

So your saying that they could not possibly get anything further intel because that took an x-ray. How do you know that. Do you have experience with EOD or conducting diagnostics on potential IED’s?

(Paul: They claimed they needed the photo for “evidence” of David’s trespassing crime, not for the cooker investigation. They would need to prove “exigent” circumstances for grabbing the camera under those circumstances, to outweigh the harm of seizing someone’s property without a warrant. That’s a high legal bar.)

posted by: narcan on December 18, 2016  1:15am

I just read “I did something incredibly dangerous and got arrested for it. Let me find a reason this wasn’t my fault.”

Tough to hold a camera with handcuffs on, I’d assume.

Were the photos tampered with? Is his camera locked away in evidence?

posted by: T-ski1417 on December 18, 2016  6:33am

@paul

Two pressure cookers, which is what the initial thought was, sitting on a sidewalk next to a Jewish Congregation, library and Church of Scientology is not exigent enough?

When you say “they” claimed, who are they?

[Paul: They did not claim they needed the picture for information about the lethality of the pressure cookers. They claimed they needed the photos as evidence of the “crime” of the photographer “interfering.” That was not “exigent.”]

posted by: RetiredNHPD2013 on December 18, 2016  10:00am

@Janet at the people, you better read that entire statute again an Exigency still applies anyway.  @Paul, The Exigency bar is not that high, actually its pretty low especially with situations like this-Stop with the FAKE NEWS.  @Brutus2011 there is no debate, did this for 26 years I know it like the back of my hand. (Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas to you also).  Lastly, anyone can sue anyone for anything and it doesn’t mean a thing.

posted by: T-ski1417 on December 18, 2016  1:07pm

@Paul

So a photographer who is the area of operations, putting themselves and the bomb tech at risk, when a bomb tech is down range examining the items is not exigent or interfering?

Seems like your photographer didn’t use common sense. Why would he put himself in harms way of what could have potentially been an IED. If he was close enough to get a photo and see the items then he was too close.

[Paul: “Exigent” refers to the basis for seizing someone’s property. It refers to the reason it’s being seized at the moment it’s being seized. It has nothing to do with what happened before that. It refers to the basis for an officer not going through the process of obtaining a warrant. There has to be a pressing reason — contraband about to be flushed down a toilet, say, or a photo of a person who just shot someone and is running away with a baby, so the photo can help catch the person — to outweigh the constitutional right of the person holding the property to have to give it up. The “exigent” reason offered here was that Sgt. Dominguez needed “evidence” that the photographer had been close enough to take a photo — not so she could protect people’s lives,  not so she could learn more about the potential IED, but so she could “prove” that he had committed a misdemeanor of “trespassing” (on unblocked public property) and “interfering.” There is not a court in the country that would do anything other than laugh at that as an “exigency.”

[I’m agreeing with you that the officers were right to yell at David to move away. There is no criticism here of the officers’ initial actions. The issue here is what happened next, under the direction of Sgt. Dominguez, actions which violated laws and a general order and a consent decree that the department has repeatedly and publicly promised it would start following.

[I further agree with you that it would be wise not to have people so close to a potential IED. That’s why it would have protected the public if the police had bothered to seal off Harrison and Fountain Street so people wouldn’t walk right up to it. If the officers had had the decency to talk to the reporter before slapping handcuffs on him, throwing him into a cruiser, and charging him with a crime, they would have learned that they had failed to protect the public by blocking off that nearby intersection — and they could have gone and done it. ]

posted by: Bill Saunders on December 18, 2016  7:44pm

NHPD needs to become familiar with Occams Razor, aka ‘The Law of Parsimony’, where the most obvious solution is generally considered the correct answer.

Using Occams Razor, what can we glean:

1). Somebody left some unattended rice cookers on the sidewalk.
2). While investigating, the police improperly cordoned off the area, leaving a public egress.
3). The egress was unsurprisingly breached by a member of the public, who happened to be a reporter.

Given those facts,  a strong admonishment should have been the proper recourse,  coupled with an acknowledgement that they too, (NHPD) were culpaple in this error….

Shake hands, and move on…

posted by: Bill Saunders on December 19, 2016  1:19am

That there could be legal repercussions for a reporter, over what amounts to a minor ‘community drill’,(aka over-reaction),
is astonishing.

posted by: T-ski1417 on December 19, 2016  6:00am

@BillSaunders

You still didn’t answer my original question.

posted by: JaneAtPeopleAgainstInjustice on December 19, 2016  10:12am

@ RetiredNHPD,
I am well aware of the exigency exception to the warrant requirement and support the responses to that provided by Paul in his bracketed replies, though I think he is even too generous on that score (flushing drugs down a toilet is questionable)

I noticed you’ve revised as you’ve gone along in your comments - first you claimed that evidence of crime was all that was required. Aside from gobs of other protections against that, I produced the statute, now you are rolling back to exigency only. So you are benefiting from this discussion as well.

What is frustrating to so many of us is that the process of re-ajudicating settled law, over and over and over, churning it through the courts, is a sham. It has to end.

A progressive community with a liberal electorate and liberal elected representatives mandates that police operate within the bounds of its values, goals and public policies. We as a community and city hall have for so long not attended this well, we’ve been so loose about it.

This community needs to trim its sails with constancy and discipline when it comes to public safety and law enforcement.

That means if certain kinds of circumstances have been adjudicated over and over beyond all doubt, don’t even think of sending more cases just like them to the courts. 

It means if the city has repeatedly stated it values de-escalation and arrest as a last resort, police must implement that no matter what their personal values and politics are. These city districts and city blocks are not franchises that you can run any way you like

For the community,the mayor and BofAlders it’s time to stop neglecting this. We need to take responsibility and enforce our values, our public policies, and goals. Stop leaving police to set public policy willy nilly. Let prosecutors know what we expect in New Haven. Take better responsibility for the priorities at the police academy and make the force accountable for the practices it inculcates once out.

posted by: JaneAtPeopleAgainstInjustice on December 19, 2016  10:39am

Regarding the Hellamns arrest—the article states this: “The officer had a legal right to arrest her. She had “interfered.” He also had the ability not to arrest her. Unlike a news photographer, the woman didn’t have an editor nearby to make her case. And she had more to lose in being thrust into the criminal justice system. Meanwhile, the officer’s rude treatment of the woman — watch it in the above video — violated New Haven’s stated policy of how to interact with the public, a crucial part of either building or losing trust with the public. He arrested Hellamns to make a point. “

I don’t think it is at all clear that the Hellamns arrest was legal and that the officer had the right to arrest her. Arrest is not the vocabulary for communicating perimeters, nor is irrational screaming to “get the f out of here,’ which was the guidance Hellamns got. How far? Where? What about if he’s my ride, or I am his? Any room to ask for clarification? Any room to fail to be clear from the start? The idea that her arrest was legal when all the officer accomplished was to totally confuse her as to the perimeter and deliberately scare her is so incompetent, it should be totally unacceptable in New Haven, and the mayor, alders, board of police and community should be drilling this into our chief to drill into officers

posted by: Bill Saunders on December 19, 2016  2:43pm

t-ski— sorry, I missed your question…..

That statement was called ‘a little bit of levity’. 
In one of the pictures in the previous article, it looked like the rice cookers were plugged into the sidewalk….

posted by: Lori on December 19, 2016  10:16pm

Although David state in the story that there were no barriers and no perimeter upon his approach, and that He kept a good distance during his brief photographic work, and began backing up when He heard the police yelling although He was a good distance away already- police over reacted.  They are supposed to be paragons of cool collectedness and control.  They weren’t. Even if we assume both versions are correct, there is no doubt that once they were directly in contact with David they knew who he was and why he was there.  Their reactions and actions at this point have no excuse. No one ever states that David was uncooperative, disrespectful, or argumentative.  As a matter of fact he was the only one reacting rationally and calmly. They clearly overreacted and certainly used an abuse of power. Searching, confiscating even though returning, were meant to intimidate and show power probably to compensate for their lack of proper securing of the area. Shame on the New Haven police department for not insisting their officers behave as they are supposedly trained. There is obviously no consequence for bad actions or the actions wouldn’t continue on such a consistent basis.

posted by: LivingInNewHaven on December 22, 2016  8:28am

This opinion piece does nothing for community police relations, that are strained in New Haven.  NHPD is damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  Smh.  This piece has added fuel to a terrible fire.