Ridgefield staffer faces misdemeanor after YouTuber films Town Hall to educate about 1st Amendment

Photo of Kendra Baker

RIDGEFIELD — The town hall employee arrested last Thursday on a disorderly conduct charge after swatting a folder at a YouTuber is scheduled to be arraigned in court next week.

Officers responded to a report of a “disturbance” at Ridgefield Town Hall around 1:50 p.m. Dec. 2, and the “investigation on scene” led them to arrest Patricia Pacheco, according to a police report. 

The employee became frustrated when she was video-recorded by Josh Abrams, who records videos — typically of public officials in their work settings — and uploads them to his YouTube channel called Accountability For All.

Describing his work First Amendment auditing, Abrams says his goal isn’t to upset or demean people, but to educate them on the rights they have as Americans.

“Government, as well as people, is ever-changing and evolving, and I don’t think the Founding Fathers foresaw, when they talked about freedom of the press, that someone would have the ability to pull out a cell phone and just start filming,” he told Hearst Connecticut Media.

Abrams says his mission is to “provide education and, for all intents and purposes, allow the public to understand their rights in regards to free press.”

After wandering the first two floors of Ridgefield Town Hall, talking to and asking people questions while recording them with cell phone video cameras, Abrams and a man who goes by the name “Wandering Hippie” made their way to the third floor, according to their video. 

Up to that point, Abrams said their interactions with people at the municipal building were “very positive.”

“People were welcoming us into their offices and we were singing Christmas carols with them,” he said. “We had a very, very positive meeting with everyone there.”

In the accounting department area, they started recording a female town hall employee — identified in the Ridgefield police report as Pacheco — while she was sitting in her office.

The video Abrams uploaded to Accountability For All’s YouTube page shows Pacheco repeatedly asking them to stop filming her and getting upset when they refused.

Abrams said Pacheco did politely ask them to stop recording at first, but the politeness quickly ended.

After Pacheco states she’s going to “hit the panic button” and starts reaching under her desk, the camera pans to an office across the hall, where another town hall employee is sitting behind a desk.

Abrams and his partner start talking to the man about a Grinch Day proclamation they learned the town was having later that afternoon, as well as Pacheco’s reaction to them filming her.

While the YouTubers are talking to the male employee, the camera pans to Pacheco. After seeing the camera back on her, she slams down a phone she’s holding to her ear, gets up from her desk and tells them to “get the [expletive] out.”

She then approaches Abrams, holding a file folder in front of her face, swats it in his direction and walks away. 

First Selectman Rudy Marconi told Hearst Connecticut Media the phone, in turn, allegedly struck the man in the upper lip, prompting him to file charges. Abrams said the folder did not hit his phone, but struck him in the face and "drew blood." The video shows the employee approaching the camera with a folder and swatting in the direction of the camera. 

“It’s never acceptable in any capacity to assault someone because you don’t like what they’re doing,” Abrams said. 

The police report does not indicate who reported the disturbance, but the Ridgefield Town Hall employee across the hall from Pacheco’s office appears to have placed the call in the video uploaded to YouTube.

Pacheco, 57, was charged with disorderly conduct — a misdemeanor — and released on a written promise to appear at state Superior Court in Danbury on Dec. 16. She couldn’t be reached for comment.

She was also placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation, according to Marconi, who described the YouTubers’ behavior as “intimidating,” but acknowledged that they didn’t break any rules. 

Abrams said he wouldn’t press charges if she apologized, but the officer told him that she declined to, according to the video. 

“We gave her that opportunity (to apologize) four different times,” Abrams told Hearst Connecticut Media.

He said he even contacted one of the Ridgefield officers who responded to the scene, as well as the courthouse, following the incident at Town Hall to let them know his offer to forgo the charges in exchange for an apology still stood.

Abrams, who’s from Massachusetts, said he conducts First Amendment audits across the country.

“Sometimes we choose the towns we go to at random, and sometimes we have existing reasons to go there,” he said. “We knew from an existing subscriber who lives in Ridgefield that there was some sort of news media event happening so we chose to go to Ridgefield. We weren’t sure what it was, but it turned out to be the annual Grinch Day thing.”

Abrams said the video uploaded to his YouTube channel of his recent Ridgefield Town Hall visit is unedited.

“There was nothing removed from it at all. The only thing that was added was a brief trailer at the beginning of it,” he said. 

Abrams said the only break in the footage is when Ridgefield Police Lt. Brian Durling asks to see his video, at which point he pauses the camera.

“The gentleman I was with was live-streaming, so he was recording as I showed the video footage to the lieutenant and then I turned my camera right back on,” he said.

Danbury incidents

Thursday’s incident at Ridgefield Town Hall is reminiscent of the incidents in Danbury last year involving a man from Long Island, N.Y., named SeanPaul Reyes.

The police were called on Reyes for filming at the Danbury Public Library in June 2021, and at Danbury City Hall the following month. 

During the library incident, security asked Reyes to leave because he was taking video, which he later uploaded to YouTube, but he refused and Danbury police were called. The response by police raised questions about not only their actions, but whether it should be allowable for someone to film or record inside a public building.

Four Danbury police officers who responded were reprimanded for violating various department policies following an internal investigation, and Reyes filed a federal lawsuit against city officials involved. Online court records show the case was dismissed this past March.

Reyes faces public disturbance and simple trespass charges stemming from a July 2021 incident at Danbury City Hall, where he was confronted by a security guard and another city employee for filming in the building. Reyes pleaded not guilty to the two infractions and has a court trial event scheduled for Jan. 17, at state Superior Court in Danbury.