Craig McCarthy, Posted June 02, 2018 at 08:45 AM | Updated June 02, 2018 at 08:46 Am
Harassment of whistleblowers leads to million-dollar bills for taxpayers.
This is a part of “Protecting The Shield” – a two-year Asbury Park Press investigation that probes gaps in police accountability, which can harm citizens and cost New Jersey taxpayers millions of dollars. Read our complete investigative series
When police officers stand up to wrongdoing by other cops, the results can lead to upstanding officers being punished by their departments for daring to break what appellate judges in one case recently called the “‘blue wall’ of police silence.”
In turn, whistleblowing officers and those subject to internal harassment seek relief through lawsuits which can prompt towns to make secret settlements that can add up to more than $1 million. Some of the most significant whistleblower payouts identified by the Asbury Park Press include:
- $1.4 million — A jury awarded the amount in 2017 to a former Hamburg officer who claimed he was retaliated against for not dismissing a parking ticket.
- $650,000 — Egg Harbor Township settled with Patrolman Christopher Mozitis, who claimed that after he reported officers cheating on an exam to try out for sergeant, he was retaliated against. Mozitis claimed he was threatened with assault, including the claim another officer would “kick” Mozitis’ “ass” when Mozitis pointed out that the other officer wasn’t pursuing Mozitis’ grievance. The township did not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement.
- $660,000 — The amount was awarded through two settlements of $330,000 in 2014 to two female Neptune Township officers who alleged sexual harassment. One of the officers, Elena Gonzalez, citing continued harassment, resigned in 2017 in front of the Township Committee after airing her grievances. The township has denied any wrongdoing. You can see her emotional statement in the video below.
- $1.5 million — A jury awarded this sum in 2017 to a West Long Branch police sergeant, Marlowe Botti, who claimed she was denied a promotion and treated unfairly because she is a woman.
Elena Gonzalez resigned from the police department, after saying she was repeatedly subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination. Austin Bogues, staff
Retaliation “sends a chilling message to the rest of the agency: toe the line and keep your mouth shut,” said former police officer and internal affairs expert Richard Rivera.
Rivera was fired from the West New York Police Department shortly after going undercover for the FBI in the mid-1990s. He helped expose officers who were taking kickbacks to protect illegal gambling operations, prostitution rings and other rackets. He recounts his undercover work in the video with this story.
He sued, claiming retaliation, and was reinstated long enough to retire. He also received a $650,000 settlement.
Until recently in Tinton Falls, the borough government and the police department were headed by members of two tightly-knit families. In a pair of lawsuits, the town paid a total of $1.1 million to two police officers in 2015 and 2017 who claimed they were harassed after blowing the whistle on a fellow cop they accused of “illegally” siphoning municipal water for his home. One complaining officer resigned.The other remains a Tinton Falls police officer.
A panel of appellate judges who reviewed the case said some of the conduct alleged in one of the lawsuits “smacks of perpetrating an illegal police cover up.”
Gerald Turning Sr., who was police chief at the time of the 2008 claim, served as mayor of the borough when the settlements were made.
Richard Rivera, a former West New York officer, went undercover with the FBI in the mid-1990s to help weed out corruption among the department’s cops. Now, after being pushed out of his job, he’s an internal affairs expert. Ryan Ross | Kala Kachmar
The conduct of his son, Sgt. Gerald Turning Jr., was described by the appellate judges as allegedly being part of the “cover up.” Turning Jr. was later promoted to captain.
Sgt. David Scrivanic, who was alleged to have “diverted” the municipal water, was also later promoted to captain. No criminal charges were filed.
John Scrivanic, David’s brother, became chief of the department. The township and officers, through court documents, denied any wrongdoing.
An earlier investigation by the Press exposed the payouts that led to Turning Sr. losing re-election for mayor in November 2017.
Vito Perillo wins Tinton Falls mayoral election at age 93 Brian Johnston
Vito Perillo, a 93-year-old World War II vet, outraged by news of the settlements, campaigned against Turning, defeating him 53 percent to 47 percent. After the victory, Perillo spoke against nepotism and took a stand for government transparency. You can watch the 93-year-old victor tell his story in the video above.
“I think the public should know what’s going on, period,” he said. “If there’s something important that’s going on, they should be aware of it.”
Asbury Park Press reporters dug into more than 30,000 public records for two years to produce “Protecting The Shield.” These same journalists report daily as watchdogs in the public interest: examining tax spending, exposing wrongdoing, highlighting advances and often inspiring change that makes New Jersey a better place to live. Follow their work at APP.com and support local journalism today.
(CNN) — On September 1, 2016, police in Bordentown, New Jersey, got a call from the manager at a local Ramada Inn. The manager told the dispatcher two teenagers had used the pool without paying for a room. This rather mundane call set in motion a chain of events that led to the chief of police being charged with a federal hate crime, the first case of its kind in at least ten years.
When officers arrived, they located Timothy Stroye, 18, and a 16-year-old female. Stroye was still wet from the pool, clad in white shorts. A confrontation ensued, and the officers called for backup.
A shouting match escalated into a physical struggle. A lieutenant, who had a preexisting back problem, was injured. Stroye got pepper sprayed and handcuffed. The teenage girl’s aunt, who witnessed the encounter, screamed at the officers.
What happened next is hazy. As police walked Stroye out of the hotel, an officer allegedly slammed the teen’s head against a metal door jam. At the police station, Stroye told an EMS technician he was having an asthma attack, and he feared he had suffered a concussion. He chose not to go to the hospital, however, to avoid delays in processing his case.
According to federal prosecutors, the officer who hit Stroye was Bordentown Township police chief and business administrator, Frank Nucera Jr. They alleged the assault was driven by bias against African-Americans.
That’s a step federal prosecutors opted not to take in higher profile cases of people who were killed by law enforcement. The deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and Freddie Gray in Baltimore sparked massive protests and riots in 2014 and 2015. The officers involved in those encounters were not charged in federal court.
It is difficult to bring criminal deprivation of rights indictments against law enforcement because police have wide latitude to use force if they believe an individual is threatening public safety, whether the person is armed or not. With Nucera, prosecutors felt they had sufficient proof to convince a jury the now-retired chief used unreasonable force and he was motivated by racial bias.
Nucera’s defense attorney, Rocco Cipparone Jr., said his client is innocent of the assault and one of the other officers caused the teen’s head injury.
Stroye himself said several officers struck him. He told the FBI he was handcuffed while lying on the ground. One officer pressed his knee against Stroye’s face and another pressed his knee against the teen’s back, according to notes from an FBI interview. After the police brought Stroye to his feet, he asked for their names. They did not respond although Stroye remembered one was referred to as “chief.” His vision was blurry from pepper spray.
While the precise details of the altercation may never be known, the chief’s reaction to Stroye’s arrest was captured in audio recordings. Sergeant Nathan Roohr had been secretly making tapes for months because he felt Nucera created a toxic work environment, and he found the chief’s remarks about minorities offensive. The FBI investigation revealed that at least nine other officers were using hidden recording devices, as they reportedly shared Roorh’s concerns.
Last Tuesday, a federal judge in Camden, New Jersey denied a defense motion to dismiss the indictment, clearing the way for the retired chief to go on trial.
“I’m tired of them, man”
The Nucera tapes contain profane rants against African-Americans, Hispanics and Muslims. Nucera repeatedly referred to Stroye using the N-word.
The chief complained the Ramada call was a waste of resources caused by “six unruly f—–g n—–s,” according to court documents.
He described the struggle to handcuff Stroye: ” F—–g little f—–g n—–. He was built pretty stocky though. When you put cocoa butter on that skin and come out of the pool, it’s like trying to hold down a f—–g snake.”
In another recording, Nucera said, “I’m f—–g tired of them, man. I’ll tell you what, it’s gonna get to the point where I could shoot one of these m—-rf—–s. And that n—-r b—h lady, she almost got it.”
Roohr gave the FBI 81 audio recordings of Nucera made between 2015 and 2016. Agents then provided the sergeant with devices to continue taping the chief.
He became a government witness, wired for sound and directed by the FBI to discuss Stroye’s arrest with the chief. Roohr repeatedly said he was worried about a potential civil lawsuit for excessive force in an effort to elicit a confession from the chief.
“He’s a nut”
Nucera’s comments in court records are peppered with references to President Donald Trump. The Ramada incident took place during the final weeks of the 2016 campaign.
One officer told the FBI Nucera predicted “they” (African-Americans) would be unhappy if Trump got elected because he would take away “free rides.”
In a recording made on the day of Stroye’s arrest, Nucera said, “Donald Trump is the last hope for white people, ’cause Hillary will give it to all the minorities to get a vote. That’s the truth! I’m telling you. I think about that more and more. He is, he’s the last hope for the f—–g white people cause she’s too (UI). All the seven mothers that were at the Democratic National Convention saying, ‘The police killed my kids.'”
Still, Nucera questioned Trump’s temperament.
“He’s a nut,” Nucera said, adding that he wasn’t planning to vote.
Nucera announced his retirement in January 2017. Less than a year after he stepped down, he was indicted with hate crime assault, deprivation of rights under color of law and making false statements.
The retired chief pleaded not guilty and was released on $500,000 bail. Cipparone, Nucera’s attorney, declined to answer a list of detailed questions submitted by CNN.
The Nucera case is unique because hate crimes are usually prosecuted by local authorities rather than the federal government, said Rebecca Sturtevant, a spokeswoman for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The retired chief appears to be the first cop in at least a decade to be charged with a federal hate crime in conjunction with his job as a law enforcement officer, according to a search of the Pacer case locator database and Justice Department sources.
Stroye pleaded guilty to third degree assault of a police officer in state court. The judge sentenced him to six months in county jail. He was released on probation on July 15, 2017, according to the Burlington County court clerk. Stroye is currently incarcerated at the Bucks County Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania, where he is being held pending trial on charges of writing a worthless check and access device fraud. This year, he has also pled guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia, public drunkenness and use of a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent. Calls to Stroye’s attorney, Nathan Criste, and the Bucks County Correctional Facility were not returned.
The nation’s moral compass
The Justice Department has a mandate to enforce federal civil rights laws. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, the government played a critical role implementing desegregation in the South. The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department was established in 1957 to enforce “federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, disability, religion, familial status and national origin.”
As part of its mission to protect the rights of vulnerable populations, the Civil Rights Division prosecutes select cases involving hate crimesand/or police misconduct. The Division, which also files civil suits related to sexual harassment, voting rights, housing discrimination and religious liberty, has been described on Capitol Hill as the “nation’s moral compass.”
In one of the Division’s most prominent police violence cases, four LAPD officers were charged with deprivation of rights under color of law after beating motorist Rodney King during a traffic stop in 1991. Although a state trial ended with acquittals — leading to riots in Los Angeles — the officers were later indicted by the Justice Department. Two of them, Stacey C. Koon and Laurence M. Powell got convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison. The other two defendants, Timothy E. Wind, and Theodore J. Briseno were acquitted.
Just last month, the Division charged four St. Louis police officers in connection with an assault during a street protest last year. The victim was actually an undercover detective dispatched to monitor the crowd. He was thrown to the ground, struck with a riot baton and kicked in the face, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In messages obtained by prosecutors, one of the officers expressed an eagerness to engage in violent confrontations with demonstrators: “It’s gonna get IGNORANT tonight!! But it’s gonna be a lot of fun beating the hell out of these s——-s once the sun goes down and nobody can tell us apart!!!”
The officers have all pleaded not guilty.
The Civil Rights Division is led by Assistant Attorney General, Eric Dreiband, who was confirmed in October by a 50-47 Senate vote. He is a corporate labor lawyer who worked for Kenneth Starr on the Whitewater investigation and was later appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as general counsel for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. During his confirmation hearing, Democrats grilled him on his opposition to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and he declined to state definitively that workplace anti-discrimination laws apply to LGBT employees.
In a statement about the St. Louis case, Dreiband said, “The Justice Department will continue to investigate and prosecute matters involving allegations of federal criminal civil rights violations.”
Federal excessive force prosecutions are relatively rare because the government must prove an officer specifically set out to deprive a victim of his or her constitutional rights, per a 1945 Supreme Court decision known as Screws V. United States. In that case, the high court overturned the convictions of a Georgia sheriff and two deputies for the beating death of an African-American prisoner because the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury they must find the defendants acted “willfully,” with the purpose of violating the victim’s rights.
In recent years, the FBI has investigated the deaths of unarmed black men during police encounters, including the shooting of Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the Gray case in Baltimore. Although the officers were not charged, the DOJ issued extensive reports on each city’s police department and mandated reforms in civil agreements called consent decrees. (Former attorney general Jeff Sessions signed a memo on his last day in office limiting the DOJ’s role in police reform via consent decree).
Proving Nucera committed a hate crime, in addition to willful deprivation of rights, is a tough task for prosecutors. The government is planning to play Roohr’s tapes in the courtroom to back its allegation that the chief hit Stroye out of hatred of African-Americans.
In an omnibus motion to dismiss the indictment, the defense questioned the FBI’s use of unauthorized cellphone recordings to build a case against the retired chief, arguing the investigation grew out of internal politics at the police department. During a hearing at the federal courthouse in Camden last Tuesday, the judge ruled that the issues raised by Nucera’s attorney did not warrant tossing the indictment.
The crossroads of New Jersey
Bordentown Township, population 12,202, is a Philadelphia suburb on the banks of the Delaware River where the median household income is about $86,000 and more than 75% of residents are white. Originally settled by Quakers, the township is the self-proclaimed “crossroads of the heart of New Jersey,” 45 miles upriver from Philadelphia and about 65 miles southwest of New York City. A two-mile stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike curves through the east side of Bordentown.
Nucera, 61, served with the Bordentown police for 34 years, working his way up to chief and administrator. He put in long hours and boasted of running the township “like a business.”
Aside from a mysterious 2014 mishap in which the chief was shot in the leg with his own gun by a juvenile in the tax collector’s office,Nucera had a seemingly noncontroversial career.
There was trouble beneath the surface. Roohr and his colleagues told the FBI that the chief was verbally abusive, but they didn’t report him in fear of retaliation. In a police department with a roster of 28 sworn officers, at least ten were surreptitiously recording their interactions with Nucera.
Nucera’s attorney doesn’t dispute that his client used racial slurs, but he argued in his court filing there’s a shortage of evidence to substantiate the charge that the chief hit Stroye.
Cipparone wanted two separate trials, with standalone proceedings for the hate crime assault charge so the jury could determine whether there’s proof beyond reasonable doubt Nucera pushed Stroye into the door. The judge denied this request at the hearing last Tuesday.
Tracking hate and excessive force
Every year, the FBI publishes the Uniform Crime Report, an overview based on stats from local police departments. It is an incomplete snapshot of crime in the United States, since participation is voluntary and law enforcement agencies can opt out of sharing info with the federal government.
The bureau launched a program last year called the National Use-of-Force Data Collection. The goal is to count the number of individuals who are killed or seriously injured by law enforcement annually. Participation is voluntary. As of December 2018, about 4,400 local agencies were enrolled in the program, according to an FBI spokeswoman. In comparison, 16,655 police departments provided the FBI with info for the bureau’s 2017 Uniform Crime Report.
“The lack of national data on police use of force incidents serves as one of the most significant impediments to identifying problems and implementing solutions,” the US Commission on Civil Rights, an independent federal watchdog agency, concluded in a report on modern policing practices and use of force.
The FBI does gather some lethal force data. The “killing of a felon” in the line of duty is called a “justifiable homicide” in the bureau’s annual crime report. According to the latest UCR, 429 individuals were killed by law enforcement in 2017. That is likely an undercount since local agencies are not required to share info with the FBI and the definition of a “justifiable homicide” is somewhat ambiguous. The Washington Post, which maintains its own database of fatal police shootings based on news reports, police websites and social media,estimated 985 people were killed by police in 2017.
A total of 65 individuals got charged with deprivation of civil rights under color of law during fiscal year 2018, according to the DOJ. Most defendants were law enforcement officers but color of law violations can also be committed by judges, prosecutors, government workers and private individuals aiding and abetting the police. Nucera is the only officer charged with deprivation of rights and hate crime assault, according to the DOJ.
The federal definition of a hate crime is: “An offense involving actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin. Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person.” Additionally, any offense committed against an individual because of actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability is also a hate crime.
The FBI has conducted major hate crime probes over the past two years. The bureau took the lead investigating the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October, as well as the deadly Charlottesville protest and the murder of an Indian immigrant in Kansas City. For the most part, however, prosecuting bias-motivated violent crime is left to the states, according to Michael German, a former FBI agent and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program.
The FBI reported an increase in hate crimes during 2017 yet the bureau’s leadership has spotlighted other issues as its main areas of concern.
During an October 2018 speech at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference, FBI director Christopher Wray listed the bureau’s priorities: “Terrorism, gang violence, espionage, hacking, opioid abuse, active shooters.”
The lost tapes
So why did the FBI get involved in the Nucera case?
At some point in September or October of 2016, Roohr called an old friend, Jacob Archer, a special agent at the FBI’s Philadelphia office who started his career as a Bordentown city police officer. Roohr visited Archer at his home to tell him about the Ramada incident. Archer referred Roohr to a special agent from the FBI’s New Jersey office, Arthur Durrant, who was involved in a 2007 investigation of the chief. The bureau looked into allegations Nucera misused funds during his tenure as the township fire commissioner, according to the Burlington County Times. (The 2007 investigation ended without charges being filed.)
Separately, Captain Brian Pesce of the Bordentown Police Department’s internal affairs unit prepared a complaint about the chief’s conduct and scheduled a meeting with the Burlington County prosecutor’s office but canceled after the FBI told him to hold off. (Pesce is now Bordentown police chief.)
Right from the start, Roohr told the FBI he had deleted some of his recordings, claiming there was nothing relevant in those files. In the motion to dismiss, Nucera’s attorney said a sworn police officer should know destroying evidence is a serious breach that can derail an investigation.
Nucera’s attorney also criticized the FBI for failing to conduct a forensic search of Roohr’s computer to retrieve the recordings that had been erased. The bureau’s experts routinely recover deleted files from computers.
“Those people don’t like dogs”
The prosecution’s court filings paint a portrait of a police chief whose misconduct was unchecked because employees felt intimidated by him. Officers said Nucera tended to escalate tense situations and railed against “towel heads,” “spics” and “moulinyans.” Even staffers who praised the chief admitted he made jokes laced with racial slurs.
The chief could be compassionate — he once helped a fire victim pay for a hotel room — but he also had a vindictive side, officers told the FBI.
Nucera is accused of sending K-9 officers to the high school for basketball games when the visiting team was predominantly black. According to court documents, Nucera said words to the effect of, “We’re going to have dogs working that night because those people don’t like dogs.”
At an active shooter training drill, Nucera allegedly embarrassed an African-American officer. Before loaning the officer a GoPro camera to wear on his head, the chief warned him not to get grease on it.
In November 2015, squad members discovered one of the police vehicles had a flat tire in the station parking lot. Nucera said he suspected the tire had been slashed as an act of revenge by an African-American man who’d been arrested for disorderly conduct.
“I wish that n—– would come back from Trenton and give me a reason to put my hands on him, I’m tired of ’em,” Nucera said, according to court documents. “These n—-s are like ISIS, they have no value. They should line them all up and mow ’em down. I’d like to be on the firing squad. I could do it.”
An incestuous “witch hunt”
If everyone was troubled by the chief’s behavior, they should have spoken out sooner, Nucera’s attorney, Cipparone wrote in his motion to dismiss. For instance, the New Jersey attorney general’s office has strict guidelines for the deployment of police dogs. A chief who uses K-9 teams to intimidate minorities could be charged with deprivation of rights under New Jersey state law, according to Cipparone.
The defense described the FBI investigation as a “witch hunt” fueled by workplace grievances rather than concern about excessive force or intolerance.
Multiple officers told the FBI the chief was stingy with overtime assignments, and three cops claimed he docked their pay as a disciplinary measure. Many said Nucera was fixated on generating revenue for the township with traffic citations.
Nucera’s attorney wrote that his client was a tough, fiscally responsible boss overseeing resentful subordinates who leveraged personal relationships to make a federal case out of a botched arrest rife with misconduct by all involved.
The chief repeatedly denied hitting Stroye in the tapes obtained by prosecutors.
“To me there was no indication that anybody was injured other than the normal amount of force to put somebody in custody,” Nucera said. “You know, it’s like Timoney said, ‘How do you arrest somebody nicely that doesn’t want to be arrested?'”
Posted , “This is the first police officer charged with a federal hate crime in at least 10 years”, https://www.kmov.com/news/this-is-the-first-police-officer-charged-with-a-federal/article_42aa89a8-17a7-11e9-9079-cf3168311559.html
In the early hours of Feb. 28, 2012, Julius Adams left the Trump Plaza Casino and started down the Boardwalk Hall tunnel in Atlantic City. After a night of gambling and drinking, it was time to go home.
A few blocks away from the casino, he found himself surrounded by a group of Atlantic City police officers.
Adams claims in a federal lawsuit he was detained, beaten and held at gunpoint by the officers. While he was handcuffed, he alleges, officers sicced two police dogs on him.
As Adams bled profusely and begged for medical treatment, one officer allegedly said, “Let that n—– bleed out.”
Adams claims the attack, which left him “incapacitated” for a month and with permanent injuries, was payback for an internal affairs complaint he filed a year earlier against an officer. He filed another complaint after the 2012 incident, but the department said his claim of excessive force was unfounded. Adams eventually pleaded guilty to inflicting harm on a law enforcement animal.
The incident, which will be at the center of a civil trial set for January, came as Atlantic City’s use-of-force rate was soaring above every department in the state.
Atlantic City police officers used painful holds, punches, kicks and other types of force to subdue suspects 2,854 times from 2012 through 2016, according to The Force Report, a 16-month investigation by NJ Advance Media for NJ.com. The investigation found New Jersey’s system for tracking police force is broken, with no statewide collection or analysis of data, little oversight by state officials and no standard practices among local departments.
The news organization collected 72,677 use-of-force reports covering every municipal police department and the State Police. The results, available at NJ.com/force, revealed police across the state used force in about 3 percent of all arrests. Officers in Atlantic City, where 40 percent of residents live in poverty amid the 30 million visitors to its casinos and beaches every year, used force in 11 percent of arrests.
The department’s total number of uses of force dropped significantly in 2014 to 529, when a report from the state Attorney General’s Office found a small number of officers accounted for an unusually high number of incidents. The report was initiated by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office after several high-profile incidents of force, including a K-9 attack on a young man.
An NJ Advance Media review of lawsuits, court documents and depositions of police officials, as well as interviews with a half-dozen current and former officers, points to a department that often seemed indifferent to officers with violent tendencies, leaving them on the street without repercussions. Many were promoted or appointed to prestigious roles.
“The message (police officers) weren’t getting is whether anyone cared,” said Jennifer Bonjean, an attorney who has represented clients in four excessive force lawsuits against Atlantic City. “They certainly knew they were beating the f— out of people.”
When the trove of public records is reviewed alongside data in The Force Report, a series of numbers reveals how much more inclined officers in Atlantic City are to use force. Among the findings:
- About 11 percent of officers used force 21 or more times, more than five times the statewide average. Only 252 officers in the entire state used that much force. So Atlantic City, with about 1.4 percent of all New Jersey officers on its force, accounted for 14 percent of the officers statewide using force the most.
- One Atlantic City officer, Scott Sendrick, reported using force 62 times in five years, the most in the state during that period among 17,369 officers who appear in The Force Report.
- Between 2007 and 2014, the department faced 570 excessive force complaints. Only two — or about 0.35 percent — were sustained by department investigators. The average number of cases found to have merit for departments the size of Atlantic City is 12 percent, according to U.S. Justice Department data.
- Atlantic City officers have been named in at least 24 excessive force lawsuits over the past decade, costing taxpayers nearly $6.5 million. And one officer named in excessive force lawsuits that resulted in $4.5 million in settlements never had an excessive force complaint against him sustained and never was disciplined until he was arrested by federal authorities in October.
How did these numbers climb so high? Why did no one do anything to bring officers back in line? Who was keeping track?
The only insight into what top authorities were thinking is found in depositions filed when the department was sued.
The police chief declined to comment for this story. So did police union president Matt Rogers. The city’s mayor did not return messages seeking comment. Neither did city council president Marty Small. No one in a position of authority within the department or city would comment on these findings.
A city like no other
Atlantic City is a town of dreams and of destitution. Walk a block or two from the gleaming, sky-high casinos lining the shoreline and you find a city wracked with poverty.
In a state where about 10.7 percent of residents live below the poverty line, 40.6 percent of Atlantic City residents do the same, according to the Census Bureau.
The poverty level, which has climbed in recent years, coincides with an economic collapse in the city. In 2006, gross gaming revenues in the city’s casino declined “significantly,” according to a 2018 report conducted by special counsel Jim Johnson on behalf of Gov. Phil Murphy.
The city’s taxable base, propped up mostly by casinos, plummeted from $20.6 billion in 2010 to $7.3 billion in 2015. The city narrowly avoided going bankrupt in 2015 by relying on a significant increase in state aid and deferring payment to the state’s pension and health benefit plans, according to the Johnson report.
By 2016, then-Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill to place crumbling cities under state supervision until they are stabilized.
Today, Atlantic City finds itself in an increasingly complex situation. How does the city help residents while also revving up the casino industry, its economic engine?
While politicians see promise with two recent casino openings and Stockton University’s new campus, a walk down Atlantic City’s ravaged business district and through its hidden neighborhoods shows much of the city still waiting for a rebirth.
Add in millions of tourists a year who can make or lose a fortune at any minute of the day and you’ve got a combination of factors that makes Atlantic City like no other town in New Jersey, and few in the United States.
“Policing in Atlantic City is unlike any other city,” said a confidential report prepared by the attorney general’s Office of Law Enforcement Professional Standards. “In addition to the concerns of most urban police departments – poverty, drugs, prostitution, property crime, and violence – the Atlantic City Police Department is also required to service the needs of a tourist population that eclipses the city’s total population.”
While that 2014 report on the department’s force rate explained the challenges facing officers in Atlantic City, it didn’t say whether the patterns it studied were inappropriate. That was up to the department to decide.
Change in tactics
The “watershed moment” for the Atlantic City police department came after a 2013 K-9 attack and the ensuing excessive force lawsuit the city settled for $3 million, said former Sgt. Steve Cupani, who retired in 2014.
The settlement pressured officers to scale back aggressive tactics, Cupani said. It also played a role in the attorney general’s office analyzing the department’s use of force.
The year of that attack, Atlantic City officers were on track to use force more than any other in the five years for which NJ Advance Media collected data. The number of incidents where police reported using force on suspects peaked at 825, declining steadily to 318 in 2016.
But during that time, the number of arrests the department reported to the FBI also dropped 55 percent. While the overall number of uses of force plummeted, the rate at which officers used it didn’t change much. In 2013, officers reported using force 825 times and used it in about 13.6 percent of all arrests. In 2016, overall uses of force fell to 316, but because of the drop in arrests, officers still used force in 11.1 percent of all arrests.
Even at its lowest, Atlantic City officers were still using force at a rate three times the state average. The department used force at the second-highest rate of any municipal police department in the state, behind only Maplewood.
The department’s use-of-force rate doesn’t tell the full story, but it’s a starting point, said Matthew J. Hickman, an associate professor and chair of Seattle University’s Criminal Justice Department. He described the resort town’s numbers as striking.
Police officials credited the decline in force incidents to a “revamped” internal affairs unit and the use of body cameras, two changes that occurred when Henry White became the department’s chief in 2013, according to a deposition. White had been deputy chief for eight years.
“The things that I have put together for the entire department has protected our citizens of Atlantic City from rogue (officers) and misconduct from the Atlantic City police department,” White said in the 2016 deposition.
One change was a functioning electronic early warning system. Though New Jersey doesn’t require police departments to have a system to track use-of-force trends, a national accreditation process does.
The department in 2010 and 2012 revised its internal affairs policy during the accreditation process to say it used an electronic early warning system, but it didn’t implement it until 2015. The now-up-and-running system has a “process in place that involves the officer, his chain of command, our internal affairs, professional standards, to address and to look at trends,” White said in his deposition.
Though the department failed to swiftly implement the electronic system, White said in his deposition, it previously used a manual early warning system, filling out index cards and placing them in a file. Yet multiple officers said under oath they weren’t notified when they triggered a system meant to alert bosses to potential problems. Not until years later did they learn they were flagged — repeatedly.
Officer Michael Oldroyd used force 50 times from 2012 to 2016. But he wasn’t told about his high rate until February 2014, he said in a deposition. His command staff told him they did not give credence to internal affairs complaints against him and to continue policing how he was. Oldroyd tallied 91 internal affairs complaints — 46 of which were for excessive force — in a 14-year stretch on the job.
White said in the 2016 deposition he didn’t “focus in on individual officers,” instead focusing on the department as a whole in an effort to “get the trust back from the community.”
That approach is “completely incorrect as management practice,” said Jon Shane, a retired Newark police captain who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and was previously hired by a plaintiff in an excessive force lawsuit to analyze Atlantic City’s internal affairs unit.
Deeply embedded troubles
Atlantic City’s problems aren’t new.
An NJ Advance Media review of court files and other public records found officers over the past two decades have been criminally accused of assault, stealing from suspects and in one case dognapping a puppy.
Because of a protect-the-shield mentality, the department gets “away with abuse of power, misconduct, domestic violence, failure on drug test and everything else,” a police officer wrote to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal earlier this year. NJ Advance Media obtained a copy of the letter from a community activist.
“It’s out of control,” the officer wrote.
Richard Rivera, a former West New York officer and police expert who was hired by the plaintiff in an excessive force lawsuit to review Atlantic City’s police practices, said a good internal affairs unit serves as the “eyes and ears” of a department, identifying officers with performance troubles before they bubble over into excessive force complaints and lawsuits.
For years, Rivera said, Atlantic City’s internal investigators purposefully ignored problems, finding merit in less than 0.5 percent of excessive force complaints.
In one lawsuit, Rivera examined 83 internal affairs files of Sgt. Frank Timek and officer Sterling Wheaten, and determined investigators had “crafted their investigation and findings” to be more favorable to officers.
Timek, a nearly 20-year veteran, accumulated 63 internal affairs complaints — 43 of them for excessive force — between May 2001 and August 2014, as well as being named in 11 excessive force lawsuits, according to court documents. During this time period, he became a K-9 handler and then was promoted to sergeant, just three months after he allegedly sicced his dog on Julius Adams.
Wheaten, who accumulated 33 internal affairs complaints — 23 of which were for excessive force or assault — in the first seven years of his career, never had a complaint sustained by internal affairs investigators. Excessive force lawsuits naming him have cost taxpayers $4.5 million, yet he was never disciplined by the police department until federal authorities arrested him in October for his role in the 2013 K-9 attack that left a Linwood man with 200 stitches. (Atlantic City and the officers involved in those lawsuits never admitted wrongdoing.)
“If somebody goes to prison, whether state prison or federal prison, they are going to have Internal Affairs to thank for that for not correcting these things earlier,” Shane said.
After being indicted for his role in the attack, Wheaten is now suspended without pay.
“The culture created by Atlantic City’s insufficient policies, procedures, and customs actively endangered the community,” Rivera wrote in his analysis of an excessive force lawsuit that ended in a $225,000 settlement. “Officers Timek and Wheaten believed they could assault citizens with impunity as a result.”
Rivera found internal affairs investigators frequently failed to follow attorney general guidelines. In 21 cases of excessive force complaints naming Wheaten, he was never interviewed by internal investigators.
“Internal affairs only answers to the police chief,” Rivera said recently. “So at the end of that process, whatever the investigation is, how flawed those investigations are, how defective they are and how those investigators are not doing their job, they are directly answerable to the police chief. It is a lack of leadership.”
During a 2016 deposition, White said that the internal affairs numbers “didn’t look good.” Still, he said, he had not investigated why so few cases were substantiated and acknowledged the low sustain rate may have led the public to believe the police department was not taking internal affairs complaints seriously.
Multiple police experts and attorneys said one reason for Atlantic City’s dramatic drop in excessive force complaints could be attributed to the 0.35 percent sustain rate from 2007 to 2014. Residents don’t want to file complaints if they don’t think they’ll be taken seriously, they said.
In a lawsuit filed in October against White and the police department, former deputy chief William Mazur alleges he was not put in charge of the internal affairs unit because White wanted to be able to “continue to influence the decision-making of the internal affairs division to protect his friends, and political allies on the police force.”
“It is not an internal affairs that is searching for truth,” said one officer, who requested anonymity because the department policy forbids officers from speaking publicly. “It is an internal affairs that is trying protect a class of dirty officers within the system.”
Joe Atmonavage, Dec 31, 2018, nj.com, “Aggressive cops are ‘out of control’ in this N.J. city, insiders say, costing taxpayers millions“, https://www.nj.com/news/2018/12/this-police-force-is-one-of-the-most-aggressive-in-nj-its-out-of-control-cop-says.html
Defense attorneys and the state Public Defender’s Office say the unprecedented release of police use-of-force data in New Jersey could significantly bolster the rights of defendants who for years have had the odds stacked against them in court.
In the wake of The Force Report, a 16-month investigation of police use of force by NJ Advance Media for NJ.com, the attorneys said they have been strategizing over how they could use the data to gain more access to police personnel records in their cases.
“Until (NJ Advance Media) published (its) work, there was no resource like this available,” said Sharon Bittner Kean, president of the Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys of New Jersey. “We’re delighted to have a tool that could bolster the rights of defendants.”
The investigation found that while the majority of police officers in the state barely used force at all, many departments had individuals who did so far more than their peers. The data revealed that multiple officers who were charged with brutalizing suspects and other types of misconduct would have raised red flags had a system been in place to track use of force trends.
The entire database is now available to the public at NJ.com/force.
The attorneys said that accessing police records can be difficult during discovery. They said cannot request a police officer’s entire disciplinary record when they can’t present proof that there’s anything relevant to the case in it. With the newly released data, they said they may now have a basis to request and receive more documentation.
“A lot of people think we can just go into court, ask and a prosecutor just hands it over. That’s not how it works,” said Jennifer Sellitti, director of training and communications for the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender. “Now we can use statistics to support our argument. We can say we know this exists. That gives us something we can put into a motion.”
Bittner-Kean said the defense attorney association plans to discuss The Force Report at its next board meeting and brainstorm how to use it in court. Sellitti said attorneys working for the Public Defender’s office already have been combing through the database, and the office has been crackling with excitement at the possibilities it presents.
“This is something we’ve been discussing for a long time, and (NJ Advance Media) just stepped on the accelerator for everyone,” she said.
Sellitti also believes the newly released use-of-force data could prove valuable in other aspects of criminal litigation, such as reinforcing the prosecution’s requirement to turn over evidence that may be favorable to the defense.
“It adds some teeth to what we’re asking prosecutors for,” she said.
Matthew Troiano, a defense attorney who spent years as a prosecutor for Hudson and Morris counties, said the database removed barriers to learning about an officer’s history.
That could especially impact cases where an officer’s testimony conflicted with the testimony of someone he or she had arrested, Troiano said, because the differing accounts could be more easily compared to that cop’s past arrests.
“In that type of situation, it’d be extremely helpful,” Troiano said.
To build The Force Report, reporters filed 506 public records requests, collected 72,609 paper records and spent more than $30,000 to create the most comprehensive statewide database of police force in the United States. The records — spanning 2012 through 2016, the most recent year available — cover every municipal police department and the State Police
Terence Jones, a civil rights investigator, said he hopes The Force Report will prompt state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to push for more transparency in policing data and enact reforms that will allow for greater accountability.
“I think it’s an embarrassment that you have to have a news organization do the work of these agencies,” he said. “The police have proved they cannot police themselves. And right now, you have county prosecutors acting as if they are the personal lawyers of the police. The state is supposed to represent the people.”
Hours after the project was released, Grewal called it “nothing short of incredible” and promised to propose changes to the system. On Wednesday, he issued a rare joint statement with every leading law enforcement official in the state conceding they had failed to accurately track police force and setting forth reforms, including standardized electronic reporting.
We are continuing to make this dataset better. The numbers in this story were last updated Dec. 12, 2018.
Stephen Stirling | NJ Advance Media NJ.com, , 2018, “Alleged victims of police brutality have a powerful new tool in court, top N.J. defense attorneys say”
Posted November 29, 2018 at 10:07 AM | Updated November 29, 2018 at 04:32 PM
Carla Astudillo, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com, November 29, 2018, “See how often police in your town punch, kick or use other force, and how they compare to others”, https://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2018/11/see_how_often_nj_police_punch_kick_or_use_other_fo.html
A man wrongfully arrested and beaten by police in Bloomfield will receive a $1.6 million settlement, according to a Friday press release.
Marcus Jeter was stopped while driving on the Garden State Parkway in June 2012 and accused of trying to grab an officer’s gun, eluding and resisting arrest. Jeter faced five years in prison from the charges.
Dashcam footage showed that Jeter had his hands up after officers broke his car window and dragged him from the vehicle. One officer also struck Jeter as he was pulled from the car, as previously reported by NorthJersey.com.
“What happened to Mr. Jeter sounds like something we would expect in some far-away totalitarian regime with no regard for truth or due process — not the great state of New Jersey,” said Jeter’s attorney Tracey Hinson in a press release. “The vast majority of police officers in New Jersey and across the country faithfully serve their citizens. But some are not fit to be police officers.”
Two Bloomfield officers, Sean Courter and Orlando Trinidad, were convicted in November 2015 of official misconduct and related charges for submitting false police reports about Jeter’s arrest. They were sentenced to five years in prison. A third officer involved in the arrest pleaded guilty in October 2013 to tampering with records.
Bloomfield police officers were called to Jeter’s home when he and his girlfriend got into a verbal dispute, according to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. Jeter voluntarily left the home and the premises. Courter followed Jeter onto the Garden State Parkway and stopped him. Courter tried to get Jeter to leave his vehicle but he refused saying he feared for his life. Courter then called for back up.
“The events of that night in June 2012 have fundamentally affected me and my view of the world,” said Jeter. “While I still struggle with anxiety whenever I see a police car or see instances of police brutality on the news, I am grateful to close this chapter and can hopefully continue on my path of getting my life back in order.
“I hope that my ordeal sheds light on this kind of unlawful conduct by law enforcement officers and empowers other people falsely accused of crimes — and prosecutors — to take a public stand against such conduct.”
Miguel Feliz was kicked by Jersey City police officers after Feliz’s car was hit by a suspect police had been chasing, according to Feliz’s attorney. Andrew Ford
Following an Asbury Park Press investigation into police brutality that exposed the lack of oversight of rogue cops, the state attorney general Tuesday issued sweeping new guidelines to weed out drug-abusing cops and those who flout the law.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued two directives for every police department in the state. The first directive orders mandatory, random drug testing in every department and the second directive sets up an “early warning” system to identify bad cops before they injure or kill residents. Both are posted at the bottom of this story.
Both orders come on the heels of the Press’ “Protecting the Shield” series in January that exposed the lack of drug testing in more than 100 departments and showed limited oversight of violent cops across the state.
“I thought the article shines a light on issues that the public should be aware of,” Grewal said, noting that they are issues law enforcement has “been contending with for some time.”
Following Asbury Park Press reporting that 100 police departments lacked policy for random drug testing, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal mandated random testing statewide. Andrew Ford
EDITORIAL: Good start on dealing on with rogue cops
Also, Grewal said his office is examining additional improvements to New Jersey’s system for police accountability, including a review of how departments conduct internal affairs investigations and state licensing of police officers. New Jersey is just one of six states that has no way to bar a rogue cop from law enforcement short of a criminal conviction.
“I think these two directives are directly aimed at identifying problematic behavior in law enforcement officers before that behavior escalates to the point where there might be potential litigation, where an officer engages in some sort of problematic behavior with a civilian,” Grewal said, referring to the orders he issued Tuesday.
In an exclusive interview with the Asbury Park Press, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal explained how he addressed incidents that led to $42 million in taxpayer funds being spent to settle allegations of police abuse. Andrew Ford
“So, I think we have to remember, we have 30-plus thousand officers in the state, nearly 9 million people, clearly there are bad interactions and there are bad actors,” Grewal added. “But they’re few and far between. But we’re committed to identifying them and making sure that their behavior doesn’t escalate to the point where it leads to that next piece of litigation, that next, you know, sort of tragic consequence that you’ve identified in some of your reporting.”
Lawmakers contacted Tuesday said they supported Grewal’s mandates.
“These individuals are trusted with our public safety and have a large responsibility in the communities and towns and jurisdictions where they work, so a drug testing policy is proper. That’s number one,” said Deputy Assembly Speaker Gordon M. Johnson, D-Bergen, a former law enforcement officer.
Johnson also spoke highly of the early warning system.
After the Asbury Park Press reported on lacking oversight of police officers outside departments, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal implemented early warning systems for officers statewide. Andrew Ford
“That can only put us in the right direction when it comes to accountability for police behavior in the streets, and that will then allow the public to feel that they do have a resource, a place to go if they feel that they’ve been mistreated by a police officer, in an interaction with a police officer,” Johnson said.
Longtime Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Morris, noted the challenges of the profession and the importance of oversight.
“It’s stressful and significantly important to the primary reason governments are put together to begin with and that’s public safety,” McKeon said. “And to be certain that officers who are so stressed are in the best position to serve the public, it just makes sense.”
Officer licensing considered
New Jersey has no process for revoking the license of a police officer found unfit to serve, similar to the way a doctor or lawyer can be banned from their professions.
“Right now, we’re considering many options that we believe can make the system stronger,” Grewal said. “A licensing system that other states employ is something that we’re looking at. But you should know that we’re committed to making the system stronger, to building trust. And we’re looking at all means to do that.”
The new statewide random drug testing policy requires that at least 10 percent of a department’s police officers are tested each time. All New Jersey police departments will be required to randomly test officers at least once in 2018, then twice annually each following year.
The early warning system establishes a minimum of 14 potential issues with police officer performance that departments will track. If these issues with an officer are spotted three times in a year, a supervisor will develop remedial measures for the officer. The department will also notify the county prosecutor’s office of the officer’s name, the nature of the issues and the plan to fix those issues.
A chief can choose to track more police performance issues, but at a minimum, departments will look for:
- Internal affairs complaints against an officer
- Civil actions filed against an officer
- Criminal investigations or criminal complaints against an officer
- Excessive or unreasonable use of force
- Domestic violence investigations in which an officer is a subject
- The arrest of an officer including driving under the influence
- Sexual harassment claims against the officer
- Car crashes in which the officer was at fault
- A positive drug test
- Arrests by an officer that are rejected or dismissed by a court
- Cases in which evidence obtained by an officer is suppressed by a court
- Neglect of duty
- Unexcused absences
Atlantic City Police Chief Henry White explains how their ‘early warning system’ helps to identify problems with their police officers so situations can be addressed before they become a major issue. STAFF VIDEO BY THOMAS P. COSTELLO
If an officer is subject to the early warning system review, their department is required to tell that to future employers if the officer seeks work with another agency.
“I’m a firm believer that law enforcement works best when there’s trust and collaboration between law enforcement and the communities we serve,” Grewal said, noting that trust is primarily established through “transparency and accountability.”
Asked about making available to the public the sustained findings of an internal affairs investigation, Grewal described the broad scope of his office’s efforts.
“…These first three directives are part of an ongoing review process and we are in the process of reviewing our AG’s IA (internal affairs) guidelines,” Grewal said. “And so we’re looking at all options there as well to make the system more transparent and accountable.”
Grewal’s first directive after taking office this year – still pending review by the state supreme court’s ethics committee – would make public video recordings depicting police use of deadly force.
“These directives are by no means the end of the process for us,” Grewal said. “We’re engaged in looking at other areas in which we can improve trust, improve transparency and improve accountability.”
At least $1.5 million was paid to settle a police brutality lawsuit brought by a family that was beaten and pepper-sprayed by Bayonne police, according to a confidential deal released Friday after a year-long court battle by The Jersey Journal.
The family of Brandon Walsh sued the city of Bayonne and the police department in November 2014, 11 months after Walsh was beaten with a flashlight during an arrest at his home. The lawsuit asserted that his mother, Kathy Walsh, was pepper-sprayed by police and the chemical irritant spread to other family members in the house, causing the whole family, including the family’s dogs, to “become violently ill.”
A redacted settlement agreement was released to The Journal nearly one year after it filed an Open Public Records Act request and subsequently sued the city when the request was denied. The agreement was handed over only after the state Supreme Court rejected the city’s motion for a stay of a lower court’s ruling that the city must turn over the document, which is a public record.
Under the settlement agreement, which was completed March 17, 2017, Brandon Walsh will receive $600,000 in an annuity to be paid in $2,000-per-month increments over 25 years. The city’s insurer, the New Jersey Intergovernmental Insurance Fund, paid $551,000 to an annuity provider to cover the payments, the settlement said.
Another $1 million was placed into a trust fund of the Walsh family’s attorney, Joel S. Silberman, although it is not clear in the document how much of that amount is designated for the family members who were part of the lawsuit – Brandon Walsh; Kathy Walsh; her mother, Mary Marshall; her disabled daughter; another son, Aaron Walsh; and two grandchildren.
Under the terms of the deal, the Walsh family agreed that the settlement was not an admission by the city “of any wrongdoing or liability” and “is being entered into solely for the purpose of economic expediency.”
“We’re thrilled that residents of Bayonne can finally see the cost of the Walsh incident,” said David Blomquist, publisher of The Jersey Journal. “This was a long and challenging struggle for our readers’ right to know.”
Interviewed Friday night, Silberman declined to say if or how the $1 million would be divvied up.
Details of the agreement pertaining to the minor children and the disabled adult were redacted from the settlement.
Under the terms of the settlement, the Walsh family and their attorney were barred from talking about the agreement, or even to acknowledge that the agreement existed. The Walsh family and Silberman also agreed in the settlement that their communication with the media regarding the settlement would consist only of a statement that “the action was settled to my satisfaction.”
On Sept. 15, 2015, Police Officer Dominico Lillo, who was identified in the lawsuit as striking Brandon Walsh, pleaded guilty in federal court to use of excessive force. Another officer, Francis Styles, was charged in federal court with covering up the police brutality. His trial late last year ended in a mistrial after the jury could not reach a verdict. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not decided if it will seek to re-try Styles.
By state law, settlements entered into by public entities can only be sealed or shielded from the public under extraordinary circumstances. But the parties asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy Waldor, who heard the case, to seal the agreement.
When The Journal asked to receive a copy of the agreement, the city denied its request. It later argued that Waldor had sealed the agreement and shielded it from public view.
In May, The Jersey Journal filed a complaint in state court, asking the court to force Bayonne to release the agreement. Over the next nine months, state and federal courts soundly rejected claims by Bayonne and the insurance fund that the release of the settlement would put members of the Walsh family in danger.
Ensuing motions by the attorneys for the insurance fund in state appellate court and the state Supreme Court were rejected, leaving the city with only the hope that a federal appeals court would overturn Waldor’s decision. But the city abandoned that fight on Friday.
Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis blamed the insurance fund for the long legal battle. “The city wanted to release it,” Davis said. “There is nothing to hide. … No one ever came through my doors. I would have made them release it (earlier).”
A community mourns an infant, hometown heros are celebrated and nuclear power plant subsidies are debated – all in “7 things to know this week in New Jersey.” John C. Ensslin
PATERSON — The city has agreed to pay $140,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed by a man who accused a Paterson police officer of body-slamming him to the ground during a dispute over alleged public drinking.
During the past 16 months, the city has paid more than $1.2 million to settle five other lawsuits alleging police misconduct such as excessive force by officers and false arrests.
The most recently settled lawsuit claimed the Paterson Police Department has a track record of failing to hold its officers accountable for wrongdoing and described the Internal Affairs investigations conducted by the department as shams.
The federal complaint also alleged that the Paterson department tolerated excessive force to such a degree that “officers felt that they could violate the rights of citizens with impunity.”
2011 incident: Paterson OKs $610k settlement in police brutality case
2012 incident: $50,000 settlement in Paterson police shooting case
The lawsuit identified Police Officer John DiTaranto as the primary offender in the incident. DiTaranto, who has been on the force since 2005, currently is suspended with pay involving an unrelated incident, officials said. Details of the other case have not been made public.
“I hope this case will prompt Paterson to conduct more serious and substantive investigations of complaints against its police officers,” said Aymen Aboushi, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the man who claimed he was body-slammed, Christian Reyes.
“They need to do a better job policing their police officers and making sure the public is protected,” said Aboushi.
In approving the settlement last Tuesday night, the Paterson City Council expressed frustration with the case and the track record of litigation involving law enforcement officers, with several members expressing a need for better controls over police conduct.
“Habits are easy to learn and difficult to break,” said Councilman Michael Jackson, who cast the only vote against the settlement.
Council President Ruby Cotton said she hoped the city would be able to avoid such lawsuits.
Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale said the department has made changes in its Internal Affairs operation in recent years, including the implementation of an electronic system that monitors whether individual officers are involved in a disproportionate number of problems.
“We now have in place an early-warning intervention system and other safeguards that flag instances of misconduct,” Speziale said.
Speziale said he also wants the Internal Affairs division to implement “civility tests” and “integrity tests” for Paterson — measures he said are akin to undercover operations devised to make sure law enforcement officers are conducting themselves properly.
Reyes’ lawsuit claims he was mistreated by DiTaranto and four other officers while he was hanging out with friends on Robert Street in Paterson in May 2015. Reyes alleges that one of the officers falsely accused him of drinking alcohol in public and then attacked him when he made comments to the officers.
Reyes was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. But those charges eventually were dropped, officials said.
Reyes, who is in his 20s, has since moved out of New Jersey, his lawyer said.
As part of the lawsuit, Reyes’ lawyer gained access to the accused officers’ Internal Affairs case files. But Aboushi declined to reveal what the files showed regarding the track records of DiTaranto and the other officers. He said a federal judge ordered that the contents of the complaint files be kept confidential.
Paterson council members in recent years frequently have complained about state Attorney General’s Office guidelines that don’t allow elected officials to have access to most Internal Affairs records.
Besides DiTaranto, the other officers named in the lawsuit were Angel Jiminez, Oswaldo Mendez, Jose Casteneda and Lt. George Vasquez.