Claims of excessive force by Paterson, NJ police

PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) — A 7 On Your Side investigation into the Paterson Police Department finds that many alleged excessive force cases are being swept under the rug with millions in settlements and an Internal Affairs Department that rarely substantiate abuse cases.

“We don’t see officers being removed from the force,” said attorney Nancy Lucianna, who has represented dozens of people in abuse cases against Paterson police. “We don’t see officers being suspended, being re-trained. They’re put right back there right on the street to offend and keep doing what they’re doing.”

Our investigation has found that since 2013, Paterson has paid out more than $2 million in settlements, much of that to people claiming police abuse.

“You see fractures with surgery, pins, plates, open-reduction surgeries on arms and legs and shoulders,” said attorney Shelley Strangler, who has won numerous settlements for her clients in abuse cases against Paterson police.

She says despite six officers being caught up in an FBI corruption probe, the abuse cases out of Paterson just keep coming.

“It’s all about discipline,” she said. “If you’re not disciplined for the use of force or for improper behavior, then you are spreading the message to all of your officers that it’s OK to engage in misconduct.”

Dennis Deluccia got an $85,000 settlement after two Paterson police officers broke his leg when he asked police if they had a warrant to search his house.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you guys just leave? Nobody called the cops here,’ and I got jumped in my own house,” he said. “And I got my leg snapped when they jumped me.”

And earlier this year, a former Paterson police officer who was caught on camera brutally assaulting a suicidal man in a hospital was sentenced to six years in prison. The officer who recorded the attack and concealed the evidence was sentenced to six months.

7 On Your Side Investigates obtained data through Open Records Requests that show there is virtually no chance of a victim of alleged abuse having their complaint substantiated by Paterson Police Internal Affairs investigators.

From 2014 through 2018, there were 183 complaints of excessive force or improper arrest investigated by Internal Affairs — and only ONE complaint was substantiated.

“The Internal Affairs function is not effective enough to properly discipline and reprimand officers,” Strangler said. “And therefore, there is this toleration, so to speak, toleration of misconduct, because the officers know that they are not going to be disciplined.”

The Paterson Police Department has ignored our emails and phone calls seeking a response to this report. However, Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh earlier this year called for a top-to-bottom audit of the department, saying, “I demand accountability and transparency.”

 

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