Crickets and cops

This story in the Courant is amazing. Some kids let crickets go in the Conard cafeteria for a prank, then a cop shows up and next thing you know they’re arresting the student council president for taking pictures of the whole mess? What kind of town are we living in?


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  1. For those who didn’t see Lynne Tuohy’s story in the Courant, here it is:

    WEST HARTFORD — It was a busy day at Conard High School Thursday, what with the release of scores of crickets in the cafeteria as a senior prank and the arrest of student council president Francisco Acevedo Jr., after he video-recorded what he said was excessive use of force by a police officer in the midst of the chaos.

    Acevedo was suspended and faces the prospect of not being able to graduate with his classmates Wednesday or attend the school’s post-graduation party. Acevedo, 18, and his attorney, Jon Schoenhorn, were in federal court Friday seeking a restraining order that would permit Acevedo to graduate. They also want a judge to order West Hartford police not to tamper with or destroy Acevedo’s digital camera and memory card, which Officer James Parizo took from him at the school.

    The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill, who was out of state Friday, but has scheduled a telephone conference with both sides Monday morning.

    Schoenhorn claims Acevedo’s constitutional free speech rights were violated, and that the suspension was in retaliation for a school walkout by more than 100 students Acevedo led in May to protest proposed harsh immigration laws.

    School officials told Acevedo he was being suspended for disrespect and insubordination because he challenged Vice Principal Irene Zytka’s order that he put his camera away. Acevedo said he put the camera away, then told Zytka, “I have every right to record the police using force and it seemed like he was going to beat him up,” according to the affidavit filed in federal court.

    “It makes me mad,” Acevedo said Friday. “I spent four years at that high school working my butt off. I’m the school president. I lead a walkout, and they take it all out on me at the last minute.”

    West Hartford Police Chief James Stillacci said he could not discuss the case because the other student arrested – the one Acevedo said was the target of excessive force by Parizo – is 17. Under the state’s new youthful offender law, the identities of those ages 16 and 17 who are arrested are concealed until a decision is made on whether they are granted youthful offender status, which means the case and its proceedings remain confidential. Even though Acevedo is 18, he shares the police incident report with the 17-year-old, and the police and court reports are sealed.

    “I have read the report, and there’s another side of the story,” Strillacci said.

    The chief did say the camera and memory card were safely stored in the evidence vault. He would not permit a reporter to view the video, saying, “It’s part of the case file.” Strillacci said Parizo was back at work Friday as the high school’s resource officer, a job he has held for about 18 months

    Acevedo was charged with breach of peace and interfering with a police officer. He and the other student were handcuffed at the school, taken to the police station in the back of a cruiser, fingerprinted and booked. Acevedo said he was in a cell for about two hours before being released.

    “Police do not have to take someone into custody for a misdemeanor,” Schoenhorn said. “In my opinion it was done in retribution for the videotaping.”

    Conard Principal A. Chuck Landroche and Zytka did not return phone calls seeking comment. Landroche suspended Acevedo for five school days, which includes graduation day Wednesday.

    Acevedo said he happened to have his digital camera, which can take brief video strands, in school Thursday because that was the last day of school for seniors. He said he was heading toward the cafeteria for lunch at about 11:35 a.m. when he saw crowds of students and learned about the cricket release. Acevedo said he took out his camera to take some pictures, and started using its video function. . Acevedo said he focused on Parizo when he saw the officer, who was trying to make his way through the crowd, “shoving the kid around.” The 17-year-old was trying to push Parizo’s hands away, Acevedo said.

    Acevedo said it appeared Parizo was starting to pull his baton out of its holster. At that point, Acevedo said, he told Parizo: “I’ve got you on tape. I’m videotaping this and you’re using force on this kid. Chill out.” At that point, Acevedo said, Zytka yelled at him to put away the camera.

    Acevedo acknowledged that he raised his voice when he challenged Zytka, in part to make himself heard over the noisy scene. “There was a bunch of crickets let out. Everyone was screaming. It was chaotic already,” he said.

    Acevedo accompanied Zytka to the office and Parizo brought the other student there. Zytka told Acevedo to leave the school, but Parizo arrested him instead, Acevedo said.

    While Acevedo was waiting in the office, he reviewed a portion of his video. He said it depicts what he described, and that Zytka can be heard yelling at him to stop.

    “I am concerned about whether this videotape is going to survive,” Schoenhorn said. In his complaint, Schoenhorn said Acevedo’s arrest was a “ruse” by Parizo so the officer could seize the recording.

    Schoenhorn also claims Acevedo’s constitutional search and seizure rights were violated, because Parizo seized the camera without a warrant.

    Schoenhorn said in his civil rights complaint that Acevedo would be irreparably harmed if he is not allowed to attend graduation as a result of constitutionally protected conduct.

    “In particular, [Acevedo,] a high school senior summarily suspended for the remainder of his school career, claims that his rights were violated because he recorded with a camera misconduct on school grounds by a police officer, then asserted his right to do so, when told to cease his activities,” the complaint reads.

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