The following column was published by the Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com back on July 10, 2006 and details the false arrest of Francisco Acevedo Jr., who was acquitted of disorderly conduct charges Thursday.It would have been nice, this Fourth of July, if someone in West Hartford stood up for freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and other parts of the Constitution that were once important to Americans.Sadly, this was not the case. Instead, West Hartford, Connecticut, will be known far and wide for engineering the false arrest and unconscionable suspension of a student. The student’s crime: videotaping a police officer he believed was breaking the law.
This textbook case of false arrest belongs in a textbook. I don’t mean the crappy kind of textbooks the school board, the state and publishers force down the throats of faculty and students. Rather, this case should be studied along with books like James Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong;” and Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States.” Books like these show the reality of what befell West Hartford’s Frankie Acevedo: Extra-Constitutional power is wielded by the cop on the beat, the school official, the boss. They can get away with stepping on the Constitution more often than not.On June 15, Acevedo, then a senior at Conard High School, saw Officer James Parizo apprehending another student who was suspected of releasing scores of crickets in the cafeteria as a senior prank. West Hartford, you see, has criminalized student pranks. Students at the other high school in town, Hall, were arrested for trying to carve their graduation year into the grass.Acevedo believed Parizo was roughing up the other student, and he said so.“I have every right to record the police using force and it seemed like he was going to beat him up,” Acevedo said in a court affidavit.Acevedo is absolutely right. He didn’t do anything that was not allowed, and what he did was constitutionally protected. His arrest was so outrageous the town should be groveling in shame. But, it is not. The issue boils down to leadership and competence, two qualities lacked by those who wield power on the scene.An assistant principal at Conard – Irene Zytka – saw Acevedo filming the incident.“I told him to put the camera away as several students were gathering around us,” Zytka said, according to Parizo’s report.Assuming that Zytka was thinking, I wonder what she was thinking. I guess she was embarrassed. She should be. Instead of supporting the rights of citizens and investigating whether excessive force was used, Zytka demanded that Acevedo go to the office. There, Acevedo submitted to Parizo’s request for the camera and memory card. Acevedo cautioned the officer, however, not to erase anything.In a legitimate school system, Acevedo would have been recognized for good citizenship. However, for his attention to civil rights and yelling at the bumbling Zytka, Acevedo was charged with breach of peace and interfering with an officer.Neither charge is legitimate. An honest wording of such a charge would be: “Pissing off the vice principal.” In West Hartford, we now know this is considered a criminal act.Zytka deserved to be yelled at. Her performance engendered no reason for respect. She should be arrested – along with the principal, Chuck Landroche, for impersonating educators. They have no claim to moral authority. They have no honor.The administration also had the gall to suspend Acevedo for five days, effectively banning him from his own graduation. That bogus action stood until Acevedo’s capable lawyer, Jon Schoenhorn of Hartford, went to federal court to strike it down.The presence of police in these schools is a shocking admission of failure by administrators to earn their pay by performing basic services: teaching and discipline.Where does the West Hartford Board of Education stand on this matter?“I am a serious supporter of civil liberties in general and of student rights in particular, and so this case did cause me concern,” board member Terry Schmitt wrote to a constituent, echoing the lame and irresponsible positions of other board members. “However, as is so often the case, the situation is much more complex than was made apparent in the [Hartford Courant] newspaper.Really? This guy is a serious supporter of civil liberties and student rights? Maybe in another country…And, ah, it was so complex. Acevedo, a witness to what he believed was excessive force, yelled at a vice principal whose performance failed to meet minimum standards of Civics 101. There is nothing of substance in the police report. West Hartford taxpayers should get a refund equal to the pay of anyone who came near this case.Lesson learned: Police are not here to serve and protect. They are here to arrest because of the failure of phony educators to uphold elementary standards in a constitutional republic.Acevedo also learned first-hand about the abuse of power by petty thugs, something that will serve him well as he goes on to college and the so-called real world.What kind of community tolerates such anti-democratic behavior by its public servants?