Once again, Massachusetts police are trying to improperly use the state's wiretapping law to punish a citizen journalist for documenting police activity. This time, a police officer violently arrested a man who used his cell phone to shoot a video of the officer slacking off at work according to a recent report by WPRI. On January 6, Fall River resident George Thompson noticed that Officer Thomas Barboza, who was supposed to be working at a construction detail, was instead talking loudly on his cell phone and swearing profusely. When Barboza realized that Thompson was recording him, he arrested him. Thompson was charged with unlawful wiretapping and resisting arrest.
Even though the video has been lost, Officer Barboza's arrest report makes it's clear that Thompson's recording was not done surreptitiously. The arrest report indicates that Barboza arrested Thompson because he saw that Thompson was recording which means that the phone must have been in plain sight. The report even indicates that Barboza didn't have to make any special effort to see the phone. He wrote that he noticed Thompson "by chance" while he was occupied with a phone conversation.
The arrest report also makes it clear that Barboza is a violent thug. In his report, Barboza describes how he assaulted a 51-year-old man, writing that he "knocked the phone from [Thompson's] hand and pushed him onto the porch floor."
Fall River Police Chief Daniel Racine has defended Barboza's arrest. "You cannot surreptitiously record people, people – not public officials – in Massachusetts," he said. "That's the state of the law."
But if Chief Racine cared about the law, he would have had his officers arrest Thomas Barboza for his false arrest of George Thompson and the unwarranted violence he directed toward him instead of rewarding Barboza with his support.
Thompson has a court hearing scheduled for March 13 where his lawyer will attempt to have the charges against him dismissed. I plan to follow up on this story by attending the hearing.