Video Surveillance of Citizens
By Christian Nolan, The Connecticut Law Tribune
Published: September 2, 2015
A married couple from Westport is suing the town and several of its police officers for what they claim is unlawful video surveillance of their home. John and Alison Borg, both psychologists, claim that a long-running dispute with a neighbor has led to video cameras being set up near their property to monitor potential criminal activity.
"This is a serious invasion of their privacy. It's pretty disturbing," said their lawyer, A. Paul Spinella, of Spinella & Associates in Hartford. "It is our absolute position this is a fundamental Fourth Amendment violation and any surveillance of this type should be made with a warrant."
Spinella said the cameras are in "close proximity" of his clients' house but not on the property, which he said sits in a nice neighborhood in Westport. He said the cameras are at a vantage point that "could see clearly into almost every room of the house."
"After learning of this, [the Borgs] did their best to try to keep their privacy with shades, curtains, that sort of thing," said Spinella, noting the couple have a young child. "It's been a cause of great anxiety and distress on the part of my clients. They are both very upstanding members of the community and reputable psychologists."
The Borgs' neighbors apparently do not think they are all that upstanding. The Borgs' lawsuit, filed late last month in Stamford Superior Court, claims the neighbors met with police in January. After that session, police installed the video cameras on the neighbor's property facing toward the Borgs' home. The police officers later went to another neighbor's home and installed another camera.
Westport Town Attorney Ira Bloom, of Berchem, Moses & Devlin in Westport, declined to comment on the lawsuit. He said outside counsel, likely from Ryan Ryan Deluca in Stamford, would be hired by the town's insurance carrier to defend the lawsuit. Spinella said police are not sitting and watching live video surveillance as they would at a stakeout. But, he said, it appears they are viewing the recorded footage at a later time to see if there is any criminal activity. He said he's unsure if the cameras are still functional now. "I don't know if those cameras are operational or not," said Spinella. "It looks like one or more of these setups are still there. As far as we know, this went on for months."
Spinella said the "bitter land dispute" between the neighbors revolved around an easement between the two properties. Spinella said his clients prevailed in court on the land use case. Since then, Spinella said the neighbor has retaliated by filing "numerous baseless police complaints." He assumes the cameras were the police department's way of getting to the bottom of whatever complaints the neighbors had involving the Borgs.
Regardless, Spinella said the police still should have gotten a warrant. The lawsuit alleges such claims as an unreasonable warrantless search in violation of the Fourth Amendment, negligent infliction of emotional distress and negligence.
Spinella said he has not discovered any other lawsuits regarding warrantless video surveillance by police in Connecticut. He said there have been a few other cases in other states but they all settled without any court rulings.
Christian Nolan can be contacted at CNolan@alm.com.
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