The ACLU of Connecticut is bringing a case against the city of Stamford that it hopes will test bail practices around the state.
City resident Michael Friend was arrested in Stamford in April of last year. He’d been standing near a distracted driving checkpoint set up by police, and was holding a handwritten sign that said “Cops Ahead.” He was charged with misdemeanor interference.
The ACLU believes the arrest itself was in violation of Friend’s First Amendment rights, and it has sued the city on that basis. But it has now also widened its suit to the issue of how Friend’s bail was set after he was arrested.
According to the organization, the arresting officer, Richard Gasparino, set Friend’s bail at $25,000.
Friend was unable to pay that amount, and so he was held in the Stamford police station for several hours, and he missed work that evening. Later that night, he was interviewed by a state court official, who reduced his bail amount to zero dollars, and he was released to await a court appearance.
Bail is supposed to reflect both the severity of the offence and the likelihood that a suspect will not turn up for a court date.
But ACLU Connecticut’s Legal Director Dan Barrett believes the original bail amount in this case was meant instead as a retaliation against Friend by the arresting officer, Gasparino.
“This was for a single misdemeanor,” Barrett told Connecticut Public Radio. “Mr. Friend has lived in Stamford almost his entire life, he works there, he has deep ties, and the maximum fine for this misdemeanor is $2,500.”
Barrett hopes that bringing this case may have far wider implications that just this one arrest. This may be a widespread issue across the state, where Barrett says about half of all people arrested have their bail set by police officers because they are arrested outside of regular court hours.
“A favorable ruling should be a wake up call to municipalities across the state,” said Barrett. “I’m sure across our state that Stamford is not the only police department that is effectively setting bail without any standards or, even worse, permitting its employees to set bail based on their animosity towards the arrestee.”
Arthur Augustyn, a spokesman for the city of Stamford, issued a statement saying that the city does not comment on pending litigation.