The video spurred a 50-person protest on Sunday evening, where people demanded answers from the New Jersey’s town police department about what happened.
By Ben Kesslen
Three Dover, New Jersey, police officers are under fire after a video showed them repeatedly punching a teenager in the face during an arrest.
Early Sunday morning, police attempted to restrain Cyprian Luke, 19, outside a convenience store. Video recorded by someone with Luke at the time shows the police pinning him down and punching him, with one officer putting his hand around Luke’s throat.
The officers are seen on camera demanding Luke, who was on his back, roll onto his stomach, while one officer had his knee on Luke’s stomach.
The video, which shows Luke’s face bloodied and injured, circulated on social media as people decried the interaction as an example of police brutality.
The Morris County Prosecutor’s office is investigating the incident but would not provide information on what spurred the arrest.
On Sunday evening around 50 people protested outside the Dover police department, demanding justice for Luke and calling the officer’s actions into question.
“It’s just devastating because my son could have died,” Luke’s mother, Mary Yurley, told NBC New York, “He was blue in one video where he is being choked and maced for no reason.”
Police say Luke was resisting arrest, which Yurley denies. “He was not able to comply with what the officer was asking him to do,” she said.
Luke was facing charges of assault, violating court orders, and criminal mischief before his arrest Sunday, according to the Bergen Record. Morris County prosecutors would not confirm the charges to NBC News. Luke is expected to appear in court on Monday.
Dover police said the three officers involved in the incident have been put on administrative leave. A fourth officer seen in the video from Morris County Park Police is not on leave
Jim Hoffer reports on the alleged excessive force cases that are being swept under the rug in Paterson.
By Jim Hoffer
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.”
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.”
MICHAEL RYAN FOUGHT FOR YEARS TO CLEAR HIS NAME. HE DIDN’T KNOW THE COP WHO ACCUSED HIM OF A CRIME WAS DEEMED DISHONEST. TWO PROSECUTOR’S OFFICES ALSO DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT THAT COP’S DISHONESTY.
Andrew Ford, Asbury Park Press
Published 5:00 a.m. ET March 21, 2019 | Updated 11:21 a.m. ET March 23, 2019
Michael Ryan spent 29 years as a public school educator, chaperoning band trips and senior proms. But his final day at work wasn’t a retirement celebration.
Instead, a Hammonton Public Schools official escorted Ryan out of the building, he said. The district suspended and later fired him following a lewdness charge he denies.
Eastampton Patrolman Michael Musser, an off-duty cop from another county, accused Ryan of committing an indecent sexual act in the parking lot of South Jersey Laundry and Dry Cleaning, less than three miles from Ryan’s school. Ryan said he never visited that laundromat.
Musser didn’t charge Ryan that day in 2015. He didn’t write anything down at the time about the episode. No license plate number. No physical description.
Weeks after the episode, Musser spotted Ryan at a ShopRite, determined “that’s the guy” and contacted local police to officially charge Ryan with a crime, according to Musser’s court testimony more than one year after the charge.
One man’s life was upended by a charge he denies. He later learned the cop who accused him was deemed dishonest.Andrew Ford, @AndrewFordNews
Unknown to Ryan, as he later fought to clear his name in court, Eastampton secretly determined Musser lied in a separate matter.
Township officials fired him for lying to internal affairs investigators over a sick leave issue, a document shows. The township decided it could no longer trust the officer’s word, concluding “the stain cannot be removed.”
The secrecy surrounding Musser’s firing highlights a major weakness in New Jersey’s oversight of police, one that can affect anyone’s life. Because a cop’s past is so well-hidden, neither Ryan’s attorney nor two prosecutor’s offices knew Musser had been fired for lying, a USA Today Network – New Jersey investigation found.
Ryan, 53, spent an estimated $40,000 in legal fees in appeals. Acting on a tip from a friend of the Ryans, their attorney uncovered documents that showed Musser’s dishonesty. A judge overturned Ryan’s conviction in 2018 after Musser’s lie to his department superiors came to light.
“What about the person who doesn’t have equity in their home, retirement savings, savings that they can draw from to file appeals or to hire an attorney?” Ryan asked. “What happens to them?”
Two of them went to jail.
Musser charged at least 56 other people after the dates of his lies, records show. Most were traffic offenses, but Musser charged two people with crimes. Both were represented by public defenders, both faced additional charges and both took plea deals, court records show. One was sentenced to 180 days in jail. The other was sentenced to five years in state prison, where he remains today. A spokesperson for the public defender’s office declined to comment on these cases.
In an apparent breakdown of state policy, a spokesman for the county prosecutor’s office that sent those two men to jail said the office didn’t know about Musser’s dishonesty until this month, after a Network reporter inquired.
While departments have sustained tens of thousands of cases of police misconduct in recent years, records show, New Jersey prosecutor’s offices can show few records for problem police officers who triggered notifications in court:
Thousands of sustained internal affairs investigations. More than 22,000 internal affairs complaints were sustained against police officers between 2011 and 2017, records show. More than 90 officers were convicted of crimes in Superior Court. Other sustained internal affairs findings include: 59 improper arrests, 37 improper entries, 103 improper searches, 1,639 issues with the officer’s demeanor and more than 19,000 “other rule” violations. Details about police misconduct are hidden by state law and available statistics don’t track officer credibility issues.
Few troubled officers outed in court. From 2010 to 2017, six prosecutor’s offices produced records showing they told defendants about credibility issues for a total of 20 police officers.
Lacking policy for notifications. Seventeen of New Jersey’s 21 county prosecutor’s offices have no policy addressing their responsibility to reveal in court a police officer’s credibility issues in keeping with decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court. There’s no statewide policy.
State considers certification for cops. In addition to leaving the state’s 21 county prosecutors in the dark about troubled cops, the absence of state oversight of police officers leaves New Jersey unable to contribute to a national list of bad cops. New Jersey remains one of just four states without a way to ban bad cops, though New Jersey passed laws this year to license “pool and spa service contractors” and “drama therapists.” The state attorney general said recently he’s considering the kind of certification system that many states use to keep track of cops and root out rogue officers. He also pointed to changes including an internal affairs reform and mandatory random drug testing of police officers, which he implemented last year following recommendations in the Asbury Park Press series ‘Protecting the Shield’.
Carl Kallner, Plainfield patrol officer, “untruthfulness”(Photo: Courtesy of Plainfield)
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“That’s the guy”
Ryan, his wife and two kids live on a quiet Hammonton street, a South Jersey town of about 14,000 people that boasts it is the “blueberry capital of the world.”
Ryan had no prior criminal record in New Jersey, records show. He said he was never disciplined in his work with Hammonton Public Schools where he was hired as a chemistry teacher and rose to serve as guidance supervisor for the district.
Eastampton patrolman Michael Musser testified in court he saw someone committing a lewd act in September 2015 in a car parked at the Hammonton laundromat while he was off-duty, doing laundry. He said he looked the suspect in the eye and “remembered” part of the car’s license plate number.
Musser testified he didn’t immediately report the incident that “shocked” him to the local police. When he was pressed in court he testified he “wasn’t a hundred percent sure on the exact date.”
Flaws in New Jersey policing practices mean you could be accused by a dishonest police officer and never know about that cop’s history.Andrew Ford, @AndrewFordNews
But he testified he saw Ryan in the grocery store parking lot weeks later, snapped a photo of Ryan’s license plate and contacted local police to accuse Ryan of a crime.
“I don’t forget cars, I don’t forget faces,” Musser told the Network in a telephone interview.
About one year after Ryan was charged, a municipal court judge convicted Ryan of lewdness, finding that Musser’s identification of Ryan “is accurate and one which was to be believed,” a court transcript shows. The judge sentenced Ryan to one year of probation and charged him $664 in fines and court costs.
After the conviction, Ryan’s school district fired him, cutting off his $112,000 salary. He struggled to find new employment while plagued by a record of sexual misconduct and toxic online search results, including news stories mentioning his conviction.
“It was like hitting a brick wall,” Ryan said. “Under no circumstances could I support my family.”
Ryan had no way to know at the time, but as his character was being publicly demolished, Musser was secretly being investigated by his police department.
Musser was accused by his department of misusing sick time, then lying about it, misconduct that would lead to his firing. New Jersey law broadly hides government records of police misbehavior and the department’s conclusion that Musser was dishonest was kept secret. A township hearing officer’s finding Musser should be fired was also kept secret.
“No amount of retraining will cure the ill,” the hearing officer concluded. “There is only one appropriate penalty to protect the taxpayers. Termination.”
Musser denied the department’s claims of misconduct in an interview with the Network.
“It was just a whole bunch of bulls—,” he said.
Musser’s problems weren’t revealed through official channels to Ryan, he said. Three legal experts told the Network that Musser’s dishonesty is the kind of material that should be disclosed to defendants.
Ryan’s attorney uncovered records of Musser’s dishonesty attached to Musser’s lawsuit publicly challenging his firing in Superior Court.
Ryan’s attorney was able to convince a judge to overturn Ryan’s conviction based on newly discovered evidence in March 2018. With little explanation, the state dropped Ryan’s charge in November.
In a statement, Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner said his office “reviewed the newly discovered evidence and dismissed the charges.”
Unknowingly facing a dishonest cop
Musser’s case shows a failure to follow existing state policy and a gap in state protocol.
One year passed between the dates of Musser’s dishonesty and the day the town fired him. Meanwhile, he was out on patrol and filing charges, records show.
Police departments are required to turn over to prosecutor’s offices information about issues with an officer’s credibility, including false reports.
But that didn’t happen for Musser until after the Network came asking, according to Joel Bewley, a spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office.
Bewley said in an email the office was notified of the township’s actions against Musser “earlier this month,” which is after the Network filed a records request related to Musser. It’s also at least five months after a Burlington County judge upheld Musser’s firing for dishonesty in a public court action that was covered by local news media and picked up by the Associated Press.
The prosecutor’s office is reviewing the two cases involving people jailed after charges by Musser to “determine whether disclosure obligations exist,” Bewley wrote in an email. The office also plans to reinforce state policies on the reporting of these types of issues with police departments in their county.
Eastampton Police Chief Joseph Iacovitti said Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office was made aware of the department’s investigation of Musser.
“They were definitely brought in for it,” he told the Network.
He declined to answer follow-up questions about when the department notified the prosecutor’s office.
Ryan’s case fell through a loophole.
Musser charged Ryan while he was off-duty in another county. State policy doesn’t call for departments to reach outside their county. Musser’s department didn’t bring the information about Musser to Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, the agency pursuing Ryan, the prosecutor’s office argued in court. Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office didn’t ask about Musser. And neither the department nor the prosecutor’s office told Ryan, his wife said.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal recently told the Network his office is working on a statewide policy to address issues with a prosecutor’s obligation to turn over information that would be helpful to a defendant. That can include material about a police officer’s credibility, in keeping with court precedent established over about 50 years, starting with the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland.
Grewal has the support of the state’s largest police union, the New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association.
“…we asked the AG’s office for a statewide policy because of the inequity in how the different prosecutors office’s treat Brady,” NJSPBA President Pat Colligan said in an email. “We are waiting for a statewide policy. I know a working group is in place and they are working on it.”
‘They’re trying to tarnish my reputation’
Musser, 48, served Eastampton for 13 years. He said he uses sick time “appropriately” and “no” he wasn’t dishonest about sick time or during an internal affairs investigation.
He described an occasion in which he stopped a man attempting to hang himself, providing an image of a lifesaving award Musser won.
He’s now fighting Eastampton before the appellate division.
“They’re trying to tarnish my reputation and make it like I’m this bad cop,” Musser said. “But like I said to you, I’ll give you the shirt off my back. I’ve helped so many people.”
Harassment of whistleblowers leads to million-dollar bills for taxpayers.
Andrew Ford and Kala Kachmar, Asbury Park Press, Jan. 22, 2018 | Updated 2:43 p.m. ET Jan. 18, 2019
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:
$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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!”
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.
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.”
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 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.
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?'”
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.
“These figures are useful and meaningful,” he said. “The shining light at the end of the tunnel is that it will push police agencies and the state to start collecting better data.”
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.”
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.”
Perhaps the single greatest power granted a police officer is the legal authority to use force against another person. It is a normal part of policing, whether it’s twisting someone’s arm behind their back or firing a gun.
A 16-month investigation into New Jersey’s broken system for tracking and stopping overly aggressive police officers before they cause unnecessary injuries and costly lawsuits. NJ Advance Media reporters filed 506 public records requests and collected 72,607 use-of-force forms covering 2012 through 2016, the most recent full year available.
In response to the investigation, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal conceded the entire system for tracking police use of force was broken and promised a major overhaul.
“The reporting that you’ve done and the hoops you had to jump through to get this data are completely unnecessary,” Grewal said. “It shouldn’t have taken you a year and 500 OPRA requests, and we’re committed to making this data more available, not just to the media but to the public.
Using force can inflict significant and lasting harm on a person. A failure to properly oversee police use of force can result in overly aggressive officers unnecessarily injuring or killing people. Besides the human toll, such actions can cost taxpayers a lot of money in lawsuits.
No. Using force is a normal and necessary part of policing to protect both the public and the officer. But experts agree it should be closely monitored in order to intervene with officers who may be pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable or who are being outright excessive.
The database covers uses of force from 2012 through 2016 for every municipal police officer and State Police trooper. It includes detailed breakdowns on race of subjects and officers, types of force used, reasons for using force, injuries and more. And it’s all available for the public’s use now on nj.com/force.
Enter the name of your local department or any officer for their statistics and how they compare.
We want to hear from you about stories or trends you find in the database, or other issues related to police use of force that you think should be investigated. You can reach our team of reporters directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our many ways to securely submit a tip at nj.com/tips.
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Jim Walsh, Cherry Hill Courier-PostPublished 1:16 p.m. ET Oct. 29, 2018 | Updated 5:25 p.m. ET Oct. 31, 2018
CAMDEN – A federal judge has ruled a Glassboro man can pursue a civil rights lawsuit against two police officers who allegedly used excessive force during an arrest.
Kameron Teel, a former Glassboro High School soccer star, contends he was the victim of a police assault after being stopped while taking his bike through New Street Park on the night of June 24, 2016.
Teel alleges Glassboro police Sgt. Daniel Eliasen “climbed on top of him, choked him, sprayed him with pepper spray and handcuffed him,” Kugler’s ruling noted.
The suit contends a second officer, Domenic Visceglia, threatened to unleash a K-9 on Teel, who was then 26.
It also says either Eliasen or Visceglia “slammed (Teel’s) head into the police vehicle multiple times,” the judge noted in the decision issued Friday.
Teel was accused of resisting arrest and other offenses, but the charges were dismissed a month later.
Teel, who worked as a substitute teacher, sued the borough, Eliasen and several unnamed officers in April 2017.
He amended his complaint in January of this year to name Visceglia and other officers.
Kugler’s ruling accepted the borough’s argument that Teel had failed to file a required tort claim notice before amending his lawsuit. The judge said that lapse barred Teel from pursuing state claims.
But Kugler said Teel could argue that Eliasen and Visceglia violated his constitutional rights by failing to intervene to stop his alleged mistreatment in the park.
That claim isn’t subject to a state law that requires tort notices in advance of lawsuits against public entities, the judge noted.
Teel’s attorney, David Wesley Cornish of Philadelphia, said his client could also pursue federal counts that include malicious prosecution, false arrest, excessive force and failure to intervene.
“We’re very pleased with the court’s ruling,” Cornish said Wednesday.
“Mr Teel feels very strongly that these officers’ actions were unconstitutional and he looks forward to having his day in court,” the attorney said.
A lawyer for the officers could not be reached for comment.
What we’re working on for the weekend of Oct. 19. Jenna Intersimone, @JIntersimone
EDISON – Five township police were indicted Friday by a grand jury on multiple charges including official misconduct, participating in a pattern of official misconduct, and theft, according to a statement from Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey.
Sgt. Ioannis (John) Mpletsakis, 39, Patrolman Paul Pappas, 44, and Patrolman James Panagoulakos, 32, all of Edison; Patrolman Gregory Makras, 34, of Cranford, and Sgt. Brian Rossmeyer, 41, of Bedminister, were charged in an 11-count indictment with two counts of official misconduct in the second degree, participation in a pattern of official misconduct in the second degree, financial facilitation of criminal activity in the second degree, conspiracy to commit the crime of financial facilitation of criminal activity in the second degree, theft by unlawful taking in the second degree, and theft by deception in the second degree, the statement said.
In addition, Mpletsakis was charged with promoting organized street crime in the first degree, while Makras was charged with hindering prosecution in the third degree, uttering a forged document in the fourth degree, and fabricating physical evidence in the fourth degree, authorities said.
The indictment was handed up in New Brunswick following an investigation by the Edison Police Department’s – Internal Affairs Unit and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office. The case was presented to the grand jury by Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Christine D’Elia.
These charges against the officers, announced earlier this year, came just as the department was working to rebuild its image tarnished by another group of sworn Edison officers convicted of criminal charges, including Michael Dotro, who is serving 20 years in state prison, for setting fire to the home of a superior officer.
The investigation determined that between Nov. 14, 2016, and May 7, 2018, the Edison Police Officers were getting paid for extra-duty jobs which they were not present for. These extra-duty, or “side jobs,” were in addition to the regular hours which they as members of the Edison Police Department were assigned to work, the statement said.
The officers, who volunteered to take these extra assignments, had full police responsibilities while assigned to the extra-duty jobs. These assignments included directing traffic for utility companies as well as providing security services for local businesses and residential communities.
“While the Edison Police Department has recently taken important steps to ensure that the extra-duty jobs are now assigned and completed in a legitimate fashion, this investigation is very much active and continuing,” Carey said in the statement.
Mpletsakis has been a member of the Edison Police Department for 16 years, Pappas for 14 years, Panagoulakos for 4 years, Makras for 7 years, and Rossmeyer has been with the department for 11 years.
The officers are scheduled to appear in Superior Court in New Brunswick on Dec. 6.
Separately, Pappas was indicted last month on official misconduct and computer theft charges as well as allegedly stalking his former girlfriend.
Mpletsakis and Rossmeyer were promoted to the rank of sergeant in December. Mpletsakis gained notoriety in July 2005 when he crashed his BMW into a box truck and fled the scene while nude.