Digital Imagery Charges Dismissed Against Connecticut PIO

Criminal charges against a Connecticut firefighter for violating an emergency scene photo-taking law, have been dismissed. Steven Frischling, the public information officer for the Chesterfield Fire Company, was charged in 2021 with violating Joshua’s Law.

Enacted in 2011, Joshua’s Law made it a crime for firefighters, police, and EMS personnel to gratuitously take photos of victims, and/or sharing them on social media. Here is the text of Joshua’s Law:

Sec. 53-341c. Unauthorized taking or transmission by first responders of images of crime or accident victims. Any peace officer or firefighter, as those terms are defined in section 53a-3, or any ambulance driver, emergency medical responder, emergency medical technician or paramedic, as those terms are defined in section 19a-175, who responds to a request to provide medical or other assistance to a person and, other than in the performance of his or her duties, knowingly (1) takes a photographic or digital image of such person without the consent of such person or a member of such person’s immediate family, or (2) transmits, disseminates or otherwise makes available to a third person a photographic or digital image of such person without the consent of such person or a member of such person’s immediate family, shall be fined not more than two thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

Frischling, a professional photographer and long-time firefighter, was serving in his capacity as the PIO when he responded to a motor vehicle accident on February 7, 2021. He took several photos at the scene, and after ensuring that none of the photos to be used depicted a recognizable image of a victim, he posted them to the fire department’s Facebook page.

The Montville Police Department charged Frischling with two counts of violating Joshua’s Law, one for taking the photos and one for sharing them on Facebook. Despite the obvious fact that Frischling took the photos “in the performance of his … duties” as allowed by Joshua’s Law, and that he shared the photos “in the performance of his … duties” as allowed by Joshua’s Law, police and prosecutors refused to dismiss the charges for nearly 25 months.

It was not until Frischling’s attorney insisted on a trial that the charges were finally dismissed. Here is a copy of the dismissal paperwork.

My personal congratulations to Steven and his legal team on securing this dismissal. The charges should never have been bought in the first place, but should have been dismissed long ago. Fortunately, he can now put this episode behind him.

The unanswered question in Connecticut remains whether other firefighters who are duly authorized by their department to take and/or share photos may be charged by overzealous police/prosecutors. In this regard, the chilling effect of Joshua’s Law will continue.

Also here is a press release from the Chesterfield Fire Company:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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