Police Accountability Project
The Police Accountability Project is a committee of the NJ Libertarian Party. Its goal is to search out cases of police misconduct, file former Internal Affairs (IA) complaints when appropriate, and to publicize violations of rules and laws by the police. There may be other stories posted on the NJLP Police Internal Affairs Complaint Blog page.
On January 22, 2013, Thomas H. Neff, chairman of the New Jersey Local Finance Board (LFB) notified me that my ethics complaint against Voorhees Township (Camden County) Deputy Mayor Mario DiNatale was dismissed by a 3 to 1 vote. (The LFB has six members, but only four were present at the January 9, 2013 meeting where the vote was taken.)
I had complained to the LFB on January 17, 2012 after reading a January 11, 2012 Courier Post article entitled "Abuse of badges may cost them badges" by Jeremy Rosen. The article reported that Berlin Township (Camden County) police officer Wayne Bonfiglio had stopped Deputy Mayor DiNatale on January 5, 2012 for having a rejected red inspection sticker and improperly tinted windows on his vehicle.
According to a January 5, 2012 e-mail that Bonfiglio had sent to Voorhees Police Chief Keith Hummel, when he approached DiNatale's car, DiNatale held a police badge out the driver's side window. Bonfiglio, who "could not believe that a police officer would openly display his badge on a car stop in front of so many witnesses" asked DiNatale if he was a police officer. According to Bonfiglio, DiNatale "simply replied, 'Voorhees Township Police.'"
I recently read a July 19, 2011 decision by United State District Court Judge Freda L. Wolfson in Maria Broadnax's civil lawsuit against the Borough of South Plainfield and patrol officer Ryan Mote. At issue was the legality of Mote sticking his fingers in the pocket of Broadnax's jeans during a December 11, 2008 traffic stop for driving a car with tinted windows on Route 22. Broadnax had claimed that Mote violated her Fourth Amendment rights by momentarily sticking his fingers, up to his knuckles, in the pocket of her tight bluejeans before she withdrew from the officer causing his fingers to slip back out. In October 2011, a few months after North Plainfield lost its motion for summary judgment, it settled the case by paying Broadnax and her lawyer $5,000. The opinion and settlement are on-line here.
In separate incidents the Sussex and the Warren County Sheriff departments were caught using county owned emergency generators in their personal homes.
In Sussex County, Undersheriff George DeOld resigned after getting caught appropriating two generators for his own use in November. Prior to his resignation DeOld was receiving a $97,000 salary and a $66,537 pension from a former police job in Patterson. It is unknown if his resignation was accepted in exchange for dropping the investigation. It may well turn out that he will add an additional amount to his pension from his Sheriff job.
In March of 2012, after crossing through a park in Hanover Township, a police officer in plain clothes ordered 15 year old Austin DeCaro and his friends to sit down on the curb. Not knowing whether or not the man was really a police officer, Austin started to record the interaction. Upon seeing the camera, officer Joseph Quinn ordered that he camera be turned off or "its going to be mine forever." Bravely, Austin asked the officer "Why?" Quinn responded by tackling Austin, handcuffing him, and arresting him. He was originally charged with Obstruction, Vandalism, and being in the park after dark.
When the video was viewed by the police chief, Stephen Gallagher, all charges were dropped except for the being in the park past a curfew. DeCaro and his family have filed suit against Officer Quinn and Hanover Township with assistance from the ACLU.
By way of a December 5, 2012 letter, Lieutenant Michael J. Emmons of the Neptune Township Police Department dismissed an internal affairs complaint against Neptune Police Officer Leslie Borges. The complaint, which was filed on October 16, 2012 by the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project, was based on an October 16, 2012 written decision issued Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court.
In that case, the court suppressed evidence that Borges and other officers seized when they arrested a local man, James M. Height, for third-degree possession of Xanax. Regarding Borges' warrantless search of Height's apartment, the court held that “there was no objectively reasonable basis for [him] to enter the apartment under the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement.”
At issue were some files I placed on-line regarding a July 27, 2012 Press of Atlantic City article that reported on Jason Dare, a New Jersey State Trooper, being acquitted of drunk driving and refusal to take an Alcotest after an early morning, single car crash in Hamilton Township, Atlantic County.
The files consisted of the "crash report" of Trooper Dare's car accident, the summonses that were issued to him and the incident reports prepared by the Hamilton police officers who investigated the accident and arrested Trooper Dare.
Those interested in the actions of the Woolwich Township Gloucester County) police may wish to read pages 2 through 9 of U.S. District Court Judge Joseph E. Irenas' April 3, 2012 opinion in the civil case of Terence Jones v. Sean Dalton, et al, Civil Action No. 09-138.
At issue was Woolwich police officer Michael Schaeffer's February 4, 2007 motor vehicle stop of Terrence Jones, a former Philadelphia police officer who is African American. According to the opinion, Schaeffer was extremely antagonistic toward Jones and conducted a fruitless, warrantless search of Jones' vehicle despite Jones' refusal to consent to a search. After Jones filed an Internal Affairs complaint against Schaeffer, the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office (GCPO), without interviewing Schaeffer, filed criminal charges against Jones for giving false information to police. The charges were brought against Jones after the GCPO's investigator, Captain John Porter, "meticulously compared the [Motor Vehicle Recording of Schaeffer's traffic stop of Jones] to Jones' letters and decided to charge the victim [i.e. Jones] despite clear violations of police procedure and the Constitution." Opinion, Page 10. Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton authorized the criminal charges. (Id, Page 9)
Thanks to CATO's Police Misconduct Reporting Project for pointing me to this story.
A former Jersey City man who accused a police officer of excessive force in 2005 is set to receive $185,000 in a legal settlement that the City Council is scheduled to approve this week.
Samy Gattas sued the city, the Police Department, Police Chief Tom Comey, and several officers in federal court, accusing them of violating his civil rights during a 2005 incident in which he was handcuffed and charged with a disorderly persons offense after a verbal dispute with a police officer.
Thanks to CATO's Police Misconduct Reporting Project for pointing me to this story.
A Passaic County police officer sent a 12-year-old girl explicit photos of himself in uniform and tried to set up a sexual encounter with her, days after meeting the girl while assisting her family in an unrelated police matter, authorities said today. Woodland Park Police Officer Steven Vigorito Jr. pleaded not guilty in Superior Court in Paterson to charges ranging from attempted aggravated sexual assault to luring and enticing a child
In April of 2011, Bogota officer Regina Tasca called for backup assistance in taking a mentally disturbed man to the hospital. Two Ridgefield Park police officers arrived and immediately rushed in to the scene and started beating on the victim. Officer Tasca attempted to intervene.
Neither of the Ridgefield Park officers have been punished.
Tasca described what we see on the videotape: "The Ridgefield Park officer automatically charges and takes him down to the ground. I was quite shocked. As he's doing that, another Ridgefield Park officer flies to the scene in his car, jumps out and starts punching him in the head."
On the tape you can hear Tara, the mother, and Kyle, her son, screaming, "Why are you punching him?" and "Stop punching me!"
In exchange for his guilty plea and forfeiture of the $56,000 seized, the State agreed to recommend a non-custodial probationary sentence.
- New Jersey Appellate Division decision, in State v. Al H. Aly, Docket No. A-5249-09T4, decided 04/12/2012
Under New Jersey Law, forfeited cash does not go to the general fund. Rather, "all money seized . . . shall become the property of the entity funding the prosecuting agency involved" and the prosecuting agency "shall divide the . . . money seized . . . with any other entity where the other entity's law enforcement agency participated in the surveillance, investigation, arrest or prosecution resulting in the forfeiture." N.J.S.A. 2C:64-6. (full text at http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/2012/2012103Ok//2C64.pdf)
At the following link is a December 15, 2011 decision by Burlington County Superior Court Judge Thomas P. Kelly (retired on recall) affirming the conviction of an Air Force Captain for Obstruction (N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a)) and Resisting Arrest (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-2a(1)). The decision is on-line here: http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/2012/2012101is//ReeceCrim.pdf
At issue was a "dropped" 911 call that came from Captain Evan Reece's home in Pemberton Township. (A "dropped" 911 call is a call that is received by police but in which the caller gives no voice response to the dispatcher.) When Sergeant Peter Delagarza came to investigate the call, Reece, in a calm voice and demeanor, told him that he did not place the call.
Phillipsburg Police Detective James P. Stettner II fired his duty revolver into the grave a former teacher and lied about it. He pled guilty in January and was fined $1,250 for discharging a firearm less than 300 feet from a home.
The Police Department is refusing to release the details of the internal investigation or what the department punishment was. Mr. Stettner remains on the force.
According to the Asbury Park Press Data Universe, Mr. Stettner was paid $87,600 by the town of Phillipsburg in 2010. His brother, Robert Stettner, is also a Phillipsburg Police Officer Captain. Their father, James P. Stettner, Jr. is on the Phillipsburg Town Council and is a former Phillipsburg Chief of Police.