Authorities said a Massachusetts man violated the state’s wiretapping law by recording a police officer cursing into his cell phone while working a street detail.
Officers arrested 51-year-old George Thompson, of Fall River, on one count each of unlawful wiretap and resisting arrest, reported WPRI-TV.
Police disciplined the arresting officer, Thomas Barboza, for using profanity on a cell phone call Jan. 6 while working a construction detail, which officials said violated department policy.
“Every other word out of his mouth he’s dropping the F-bomb,” Thompson said. “This is going on 10, 15 minutes.”
Thompson said he asked the officer to calm down after he swore while an elderly woman walked past.
“I said to him, ‘Why don’t you cool it with the language there?’” Thompson said. “He says, ‘Why don’t you shut the [expletive] up and mind your own [expletive] business?’”
Thompson said Barboza became angry when he spotted him using a cell phone to record his actions.
“He comes running up the stairs to me, looks right into the camera, and says, ‘You [expletive] welfare bum, I’m arresting you,’” Thompson said. “I actually thought it was a joke.”
Police said Thompson broke the law by attempting to conceal his own phone while secretly audio taping the officer’s conversation.
Thompson claims he did not try to hide his phone or the fact that he was videotaping the officer while sitting on his front porch reading a newspaper.
Barboza confiscated Thompson’s iPhone, and police said the video recording was erased while the device was stored in an evidence room.
Police have asked Apple Inc. to determine how the phone was reset.
“If a Fall River police officer erased that video, he’s fired and I would suspect the district attorney would take out charges,” said Police Chief Daniel Racine. “If any other individual did that, we will take out felony charges.”
Thompson denied remotely deleting the files, which can be done for lost or stolen iPhones, and said he gave police his password to retrieve the video.
He filed a complaint with the police department last month over Barboza’s conduct, and the officer was suspended without pay for one day and barred from taking lucrative work details for 15 days.
“If they are working a construction detail they need to be focused on the construction, focused on the traffic, focused on the pedestrians and ensuring that the construction workers are safe,” Racine said.
But he said Barboza acted appropriately by arresting Thompson for what he termed a violation of the officer’s basic right to privacy.
“You cannot surreptitiously record people, people – not public officials – in Massachusetts,” Racine said. “That’s the state of the law.”
Thompson has already pleaded not guilty, and his attorney plans to request the charges to be dropped at a March 13 court hearing.
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