Cop caught searching minivan without owner’s consent says it was a ‘potential threat’
PATERSON — The Passaic County sheriff's officer caught on camera searching a vehicle without the owner's consent said in his police report he was investigating a "potential threat" to the area, and took on the search in the interest of "community caretaking."
A police report filed by Detective John Tolerico and described by NJ.com in a report this week provides the officer's account of the events leading up to the search, which the sheriff's office has previously confirmed is being investigated by the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office.
Tolerico reportedly wrote that he'd gotten a report of people passing two handguns around in the area, and when officers arrived, they saw about 15 men, several of whom were walking around a blue minivan. But even after officers interviewed several people and searched the area, they didn't turn up any guns, he wrote.
Tolerico said he thought it was suspicious that the van's rear windows were open and that it was unlocked in a high-crime area, and deemed it a "potential threat to the community." He said he tried to look inside, but the windows were too dark, so he opened the rear hatch.
Tolerico reportedly filed the report the same day a video of the incident went viral on several social media channels.
The video begins as the person filming it — apparently the minivan's owner — approaches the vehicle. A man — Tolerico — wearing street clothes and his gloves, with a badge around his neck, is searching through the trunk.
"F--- is you doin', yo?" the man filming the video says.
The officer backs away from the vehicle and closes the trunk. "What is you in my van for?" the man filming says.
When the officer begins to step away and asks the man to come with him, the man refuses.
"We've been getting a lot of complaints about guns in this neighborhood," the officer says.
"Listen, I don't care about none of that," the man tells him. "What are you in my van for? I'm over here eating with my family. I'm eating with my family and you standing here in my van. How did you get in my car?"
The officer says the vehicle was open. He then tells the man: "We've been getting a lot of complaints about guns in this van, in this neighborhood."
The man says he's not from that neighborhood, "so you wasn't getting complaints from around here."
Another officer, in uniform, walks up and speaks with the first. Their conversation cannot be heard on the recording.
The man tells the officers he wants their names, and when one officers to give him a business card, he says he wants their badge numbers as well. He films their vehicles and license plate numbers before the video ends.
"Ya'll doing s--- y'all ain't supposed to be doing. Y'all f---ing bugging. I know my rights," he says.
The video doesn't depict any of the events leading up to the search. It's not clear in the video or the NJ.com report if there was any further interaction between the man and the officers afterward. According to the NJ.com report, the incident took place on July 13.
A spokesman for the sheriff’s department, Bill Maer, told New Jersey earlier this month. 101.5 the incident had been referred to the county prosecutor's office "in an effort to assure an independent investigation of the circumstances around the search video." He did not say whether anyone was arrested. The prosecutor's office has not yet released any information about the incident.
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