Drone Journalist sues Hartford Police Officers

carcrash

I was going to add some comment on this, but have stopped myself. Perhaps our Google + group Unmanned Aircraft Operators would be a good place to start any conversations.

Background can be gleaned from this story and the following news clip.


UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT

PEDRO RIVERA, :Plaintiff, ::v. : cv_____________________

:BRIAN FOLEY, :EDWARD YERGEAU, :HARTFORD POLICE DEPARTMENT, :Defendants. :

FEBRUARY 18, 2014 C O M P L A I N T

1. This is an action alleging violation of the plaintiff’s federal constitutional rights: specifically his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures, andhis First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

2. The jurisdiction of this Court is invoked under the provisions of Sections1331 and 1343(3) of Title 28 and, 42 U.S.C. Sections 1983 and 1988.

3. At all times relevant to this action, the plaintiff, Pedro Rivera, was an adult resident of the State of Connecticut, residing in Hartford.

4. At all times relevant to this action, Brian Foley was a lieutenant in the Hartford Police Department, acting under color of his authority as a police officer.

He is sued in his individual capacity only.

5. At all times relevant to this action, Edward Yergeau was a sergeant in theHartford Police Department, acting under color of his authority as a police officer. He issued in his individual capacity only.

6. The City of Hartford is a municipal entity organized and operating under thelaws of the State of Connecticut. The city maintains a police department for the protectionof persons within municipal boundaries.

7. On February 1, 2014, the plaintiff heard on a police scanner that there was aserious motor vehicle accident in the City of Hartford. He responded to the scene of the accident, where he operated a remote-controlled model aircraft, colloquially known as a“drone,” he owns to hover over the accident scene and to record visual images of the accident scene. His device was hovering at an altitude of 150 feet. At all times relevant tothis action, the plaintiff was standing outside of the area denoted as the crime scene byofficers responding to the accident. He was standing in a public place, operating his device in public space, observing events that were in plain view.

8. Although the plaintiff is employed as a photographer and editor at a local television station, he was not acting as an employee of the television station at the time, a fact he made clear to police officers who were also at the accident scene, including defendant Yergeau and others.

9. The plaintiff did acknowledge to defendant Yergeau and others that he does,from time to time, forward the video feed from his drone to the television station for whichhe works.

10. While at the scene of the accident, defendant Yergeau and other uniformedmembers of the Hartford Police Department surrounded the plaintiff, demanded hisidentification card, and asked him questions about what he was doing. The plaintiff did not feel as though he were free to leave during the course of this questioning.

“integrity.” Upon information and belief, defendant Foley either requested that discipline be imposed upon the plaintiff by his employer, or suggested that the employer could maintain its goodwill with the employer by disciplining the plaintiff.

11. Defendant Yergeau and other uniformed members of the Hartford Police Department demanded that the plaintiff cease operating the device over the accident scene, and that he leave the area.

12. The plaintiff was not in violation of any state or federal law when the officers stopped him, detained him, and then ordered him to stop flying his device over the crime scene and to leave the area.

13. The plaintiff was not operating a “civil aircraft” within the meaning of any stateor federal regulations when the officers stopped him, detained him, and then ordered himto stop flying his device over the crime scene and to leave the area.

14. Private citizens do not need local, state or federal approval to operate a remote-controlled model aircraft.

15. There was no probable cause, or arguable probable cause, to believe that the plaintiff was in violation of any law or regulatory requirement when defendant Yergeau and other uniformed members of the Hartford Police Department detained him.

16. The actions of defendant Yergeau and other uniformed members of the Hartford Police Department were intentional and inspired by improper motive, to wit: to impede the exercise of the plaintiff’s First Amendment rights in monitoring the police response to a motor vehicle accident.

17. Immediately after the plaintiff was ordered to leave the crime scene,defendant Foley contacted the plaintiff’s employer, and spoke to one of the plaintiff’s supervisors. Defendant Foley complained that the plaintiff had interfered with the police department’s investigation of the accident, and had compromised the crime scene’s

18. As a direct and proximate result of defendant Foley’s contact with the plaintiff’s employer, the plaintiff was suspended from work for a period of at least one week

19. Defendant Foley intended to chill, and did chill, the plaintiff in his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

20. Defendant Foley was inspired by improper motive: to wit, to prevent the public at large to have video reports of what police officers do in the investigation of a crime.

21. The City of Hartford’s Police Department maintains a policy, practice and custom of seeking to prevent citizens from filming their conduct at arrests, at the scene of criminal investigations, and at accident scenes. The actions of each individually named defendant, and of the unnamed uniformed police officers, were undertaken under cloak of that policy, practice or custom.

22. As a direct and proximate result of the acts and omissions complained of herein, the plaintiff suffered ascertainable economic loss in the form of a lost week of wages, emotion distress and the loss of his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable seizures to freedom of speech.

Wherefore, the plaintiff seeks damages as follows:

1. Compensatory damages;

2. Punitive damages, as against the individually named defendants only;

3. Declaratory relief establishing that his operation of a remote-controlled model aircraft in the manner and means herein described is not a violation of any federal,local or state law or regulation;

4. Injunctive relief forbidding the City of Hartford’s Police Department from interfering with the lawful operation of drones within city limits;

5. Attorney’s fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1988;6. Such other relief as this Court deems fair and equitable.

TRIAL CLAIM

The plaintiff claims trial by jury as to all legal issues in the instant action.THE PLAINTIFFBy_________________________ NORMAN A. PATTISct13120649 Amity RoadBethany, CT 06524. 203.393.3017203.393.9745 (fax)