On Tuesday, April 14, a man was grabbed and detained by police in Lawrence who were trying to stop him from exercising his First Amendment right to record them in public. John Carattini was walking down a street when he spotted three people seemingly being detained by two plainclothes police officers. He began recording with his camera and walked past them, giving no indication that he planned to stick around and continue recording. After passing the officers, one of them called out to him and ordered him to come back.
The officer asked if Carattini was recording them and demanded that he turn over his camera as “evidence” (according to the Department of Justice, police generally need a warrant to seize a camera as evidence). The police officer then immediately escalated the situation by grabbing the camera.
The camera was mostly covered up from this point on, making it difficult to tell what was happening, but the police can be heard saying that they had detained Carattini and taken his camera because he walked down the unsecured sidewalk. The officer told Carattini that he was “interfering” with an investigation (there is no such charge as “interfering with police” in Massachusetts). Carattini tried to explain that he was just walking to the store. The video ends abruptly, seemingly cut off by the police.
Carattini said that after the camera stopped recording, he was handcuffed, roughed up, and threatened with arrest for disorderly conduct. He also said the police officers tried to delete the video, which they had initially said they wanted as evidence.
He said he was eventually released with no charges and went to the hospital to be treated for injuries to his wrist and lower back that were caused by the police. He said the handcuffs put on him were so tight that his “wrist got very swollen.”
“I did not file a police report cause I really don't have any confidence in the police department conducting an internal investigation,” Carattini said.
We are working on obtaining more information about this incident.
Regardless of what happened after the camera was shut off, the behavior by the police depicted in the video is completely unacceptable, especially considering the context of the vital role played by a bystander video in bringing murder charges against the South Carolina police officer who fatally shot Walter Scott. We hope that the Lawrence Police Department, who we have contacted about the incident, will feel the same way.
Update (4/19/15): It appears that Carattini's fear that the police department would not conduct an adequate investigation is coming true. While Acting Police Chief James Fitzpatrick has promised a “full and thorough investigation” of the incident, he is already trying to place blame on Carattini for how he was treated. This statement from Fitzpatrick was posted on the police department's Facebook page yesterday:
The Lawrence Police Department strives to be a modern, open public safety agency. As police officers, we must be held to a high standard, and we must have the trust and faith of our residents in order to be successful.
The proliferation of cameras, both fixed and mobile, in this day and age means that the actions of police officers and criminal suspects alike are subject to the greater levels of scrutiny than ever before in history. As a police chief, I welcome scrutiny because it will result in better policing and better police officers.
On Wednesday, Lawrence Police Officers were arresting multiple drug suspects when a citizen walked through the arrest scene, between the suspects and the officers, with an active video camera. That citizen was detained by the officers.
Citizens have the right to film police officers performing their duties, and I have issued a general order to every member of the Lawrence Police Department reminding them of this right. A full and thorough investigation is underway by the Lawrence Police Department Professional Standards Unit.
This incident should serve as a teachable moment to all parties involved. Having viewed the video, which was posted to social media, it appears that both parties – the citizen and police officers – should have used a different approach. No one, for their own safety, should walk between police officers and suspects during an arrest, and police officers should always conduct themselves in a courteous manner, regardless of how high emotions may run during arrests.
I will allow the results of our internal affairs investigation to guide the department moving forward, and I welcome feedback and a dialog with anyone in the community about this vital issue.
As is frequently the case with police misconduct incidents, Fitzpatrick is putting his spin on the video, but thankfully anyone can watch it for themselves and see that his claims about what happened are false.
The police officers who detained Carattini were not actively involved in arresting anyone at the time of the incident nor did their emotions appear to be running particularly high.
The police were standing on the opposite side of the sidewalk from the three people they were detaining and were acting very casually when Carattini passed them. The video shows one of the police officers leaning up against a car with his arms crossed.
The sidewalk did not have any yellow crime scene tape and the police never asked Carattini to keep his distance when he passed them, which they easily could have done if they thought it was necessary.
When Carattini passed the police, he continued walking and gave no indication that he planned to stick around and continue recording what was happening, let alone interfere. Carattini only stopped after the police ordered him to come back.
If the police had simply allowed Carattini to go on his way, they would have been able to continue what they were doing without interruption. If anyone interfered with the investigation, it was the police officers themselves, who took time away from it to unnecessarily detain Carattini.
Fitzpatrick also gave the incorrect date for the incident. While he said it happened on Wednesday, it actually happened on Tuesday, which is the day Carattini first posted the video on his Facebook wall.
While Fitzpatrick said the three people seen being detained in the video were "drug suspects" and were arrested, it's not clear what charges they were arrested on. The police department has not posted any police logs on their website since April 13, which was the day before this incident.
Fitzpatrick has not identified the two police officers seen in the video or said if they have been suspended while the investigation is being conducted.
Note: This article originally identified the man in the video as Jay Carattz, which was a pseudonym. It now identifies him by his legal name, John Carattini.