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Conn. FD PIO sues after arrest for posting MVA photos on social media

Montville police charged PIO Steven Frischling with “unauthorized taking or transmission by first responders of images of crime or accident victims.”


Chesterfield, Oakdale, Montville and East Lyme first responders at a MVA in Montville, Conn. on Feb. 17, 2021.

Chesterfield Fire Co. PIO/Facebook

By Greg Smith
The Day

MONTVILLE, Conn. — A volunteer at the Chesterfield Fire Company has filed a federal lawsuit against the town and the police officers who he claims abused their power by arresting him under false pretenses.

Steven Frischling, 48, of Niantic, a fire police captain and public information officer at the volunteer fire department, claims his 2021 arrest for taking photos at the scene of a motor vehicle accident and posting those photos on the fire department’s Facebook site was the act of a personal vendetta.

[PREVIOUSLY: Conn. fire company PIO arrested for photographs of crash scene]

The lawsuit names the town of Montville and police Lt. David Radford II, who applied for the arrest warrant and State Police Sgt. Albert Gosselin III, who approved the arrest warrant application.

Frischling’s March 9, 2021, arrest stemmed from a Feb. 7, 2021, post on the Chesterfield Fire Company PIO’s Facebook page that contained photos of a car accident and a summary of what had taken place. Frischling had blurred the image so as not to reveal any victims.

Montville police charged Frischling under what is known as Joshua’s Law, a law passed in 2011 that bars “unauthorized taking or transmission by first responders of images of crime or accident victims.” The law was inspired by a 2009 incident where a New London police officer shared photos of a heroin overdose victim.

The law makes an exemption for first responders who are taking and sharing photos “in the performance of his or her duties,” which is what Frischling had always claimed he was doing.

A longtime photographer, Frischling said his official duties at the department involve taking photos, promoting the fire department and informing the public.

Frischling alleges that Radford’s arrest warrant application contains “false statements, mischaracterizations, distortions and calculated omissions...”

As an example, the suit claims Radford falsely characterized Frischling “as one who merely identifies himself as the Chesterfield Fire Company PIO,” when Frischling says he follows written directives at the department and wears firefighter gear with the letters PIO.

“Radford knew Frischling was acting in the performance of his duties, yet chose to improperly orchestrate Frischling’s arrest and prosecution out of disdain for and dislike of Frischling,” the suit alleges.

The criminal charges against Frischling in New London Superior Court were eventually dropped but Frischling said it was only after two years of court appearances and payments to an attorney.

The suit seeks an unspecified amount of money to cover attorney fees and damages.

“For two years of my life, no matter what I tried to do professionally, I kept failing background checks because of the pending charges,” Frischling said.

“This was an overreach. This (lawsuit) is important to me so that this never happens again,” Frischling said.

Chesterfield Fire Company Chief Keith Truex said he had informed Montville police officers of Frischling’s position with the department prior to his arrest to confirm he was acting within the scope of his duties “and they arrested him anyhow.”

Truex said the public information officer performs community relations activities, delivers fire safety messages and “lets the public know what we’re doing out there in an attempt to bring more individuals into the fire service.”

Truex said he thought Frischling’s arrest was unwarranted and that the lawsuit makes a legitimate claim in that Frischling appeared to be singled out.

Frischling said he’s not exactly sure why there was such animus against him but notes in his suit that Radford had previously made a complaint against him.

In 2020, Frischling claims Radford complained to the town’s public safety commission about a post on the Chesterfield Fire Company PIO Facebook page promoting an annual holiday food drive and Montville police Fill-A-Cruiser initiative. The post contained a logo of a police patrol vehicle and a canine wearing a police hat.

No action was taken.

Frischling said he was also investigated, based on a complaint from former Montville Fire Marshal Bill Bundy , for illegal access to the state’s web-based emergency management information system used to document routine and emergency incidents. Frischling said he as certified and authorized to use the system and a criminal investigation was “quickly dropped.”

Radford and Montville Mayor Leonard “Lenny” Bunnell were not available to comment on the case.

Attorney Dennis M. Carnelli , who represents Frischling, said the lawsuit is in federal court because it is his position that Frischling’s constitutional rights were violated by the arrest. Carnelli said Frischling should never have been arrested and the suit seeks vindication for that arrest.

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