October 31, 2015

Bridgeton Police Beating a Citizen for Honking His Horn is “Not Wrongful Conduct”

The city has agreed to a $500,000 settlement in a police brutality suit but claims its officers committed no "wrongful conduct" in the 2013 incident following a traffic stop.
With allegations of brutal mistreatment at the hands of six city police officers, married couple Phillip A. DuBose and his wife, Cheryl, both of Lebanon Road, settled in U.S. District Court in April for $500,000 with the city, the Bridgeton  Police Department and several of its officers.
The settlement — which the defendants said in their request for a confidentiality agreement is not an admission of guilt — stems from a Feb. 20, 2013, incident in which DuBose was arrested and allegedly viciously beaten because he honked his horn.
DuBose's initial complaint documents the sequence of events that reportedly led to his arrest and the beating officers allegedly administered. 
DuBose claims he was attempting to back his vehicle into a parking spot near Wood and York streets but was blocked by a police cruiser. In response, DuBose said he moved up Wood Street and found another parking spot but was issued tickets for double parking and excessive use of his horn.
DuBose admitted in the suit that at that point he “momentarily lost his temper” after being ticketed and struck his steering wheel, causing the car horn to sound again.
The officers then returned and allegedly told DuBose to get out of his vehicle.
DuBose claims the officers then committed a host of brutalities and excessive force:
  • Bridgeton officers allegedly punched and kicked DuBose, at one point “pulling his arms behind his shoulders,” “spraying him with mace,” and “forcing him face down onto the pavement.”
  • One officer is said to have turned off his body microphone “so that the assault would not be recorded.”
  • Another allegedly officer told a “bloodied” DuBose, “Look at your face now, wise guy.”
  • Officers are purported to have taken pictures of an injured DuBose “for their own amusement.”
  • One of those images — of DuBose’s bleeding and bruised face — was supposedly later shown to his wife by an officer who said to her, “Wanna see your husband, Missy?”
DuBose claims his injuries included a concussion, two orbital fractures, eye injuries, shoulder injuries and multiple abrasions. He was taken to a local hospital for treatment and eventually moved to Cooper University Hospital in Camden.
At the hospital, DuBose claimed he was “kept shackled” to his bed by officers despite presenting “no danger to the officers, to others or to himself,” he said.
DuBose’s wife, also a plaintiff in the case, also alleged mistreatment by officers, including allegations that officers examined her bank book and repeatedly asked her for additional records as she attempted to post her husband’s bail.
Criminal charges found their way to DuBose after the incident, including disorderly conduct, aggravated assault of a police officer, resisting arrest and obstructing law enforcement, according to the suit.
However, those charges were dropped by the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office in 2014, the suit stated.
DuBose, in his complaint, stated such a dismissal provided “governmental acknowledgement that no probable cause to support those charges had ever existed.”
He had charged the department with having no warrant or probable cause to arrest him and no legal excuse for the officers to inflict “serious bodily injuries” upon him.
Claiming his constitutional rights were violated, and citing the injuries that he said caused him to incur “serious medical bills and other monetary damages,” DuBose filed a seven-count lawsuit.
DuBose and his wife asked for $525,000 in judgment, as well as punitive damages, taxable costs and attorney’s fees for DuBose’s lawyer, Alfonso Gambone.
Named as defendants were six city police officers: Richard Zanni, Angel Santiago, Joseph Camp, Nicholas Caprio, Joshua Soper and Miguel Martinez.
The suit does not make clear which officers allegedly attacked DuBose. 
Three police detectives were injured in a collision with a motorist as they were responding to the scene, according to police reports from the time. Those detectives were identified as L. Santiago, T. Gramp and W. Miller.
Angel Santiago is also facing another lawsuit from five female city employees claiming sexual misconduct spanning several years.
Santiago hasn't worked for the department since August 2013, according to Bridgeton Police Chief Michael A. Gaimari Sr.
Gaimari declined comment on the settlement but said the matter was investigated by both the Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau and the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office.
"As a result, no internal or criminal charges were levied against any officer," Gaimari told The Daily Journal via e-mail.
City Solicitor Rebecca Bertram declined comment on the settlement.
Former Police Chief Mark W. Ott, Lt. J. Branch and the city itself were also named as defendants in the lawsuit. 
DuBose in his suit accused Ott of implementing policies in the department that resulted in officers treating residents — specifically blacks and other minorities — with “unreasonable force,” as well as poor training of officers in general.
In the suit, DuBose cited a 2006 incident in which Rigoverto Diaz, a local “Mexican immigrant,” was arrested by two officers, taken to a parking lot and “beaten and robbed.”
An officer accused in that incident, Gregory Willis, subsequently resigned and pleaded guilty to official misconduct in court, making way for the city to settle with Diaz.

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