Cops searched man’s butt, genitals on road … for mystery weed (VIDEO)
SOUTH HAMPTON — A bodycam video newly made public shows New Jersey state troopers repeatedly shoving their hands down a driver's pants alongside a Burlington County Road — apparently feeling his genitals and inside his buttocks, searching for marijuana after saying he reeked of pot.
But even after multiple searches, the troopers found no marijuana and sent him on his way with only a tailgating ticket. They say on the video repeatedly the car he was driving doesn't smell of pot, and they don't find any in the troop car where the driver sat handcuffed.
"If you think this is the worst thing I'm going to do to you right now, you have another think coming my friend," one of the troopers, identified on the video as Joseph Drew, tells the driver as he appears to search the driver's pockets and outside of his pants.
The video was first published by open government advocate John Paff. He came across the case through happenstance — filing random public records requests, as he does across the state.
Paff told New Jersey 101.5 he became aware of the search after the driver filed a motion to extend the 90-day deadline for a tort notice — the notification a person must give a government agency before suing it in New Jersey Superior Court. He then filed records requests for dashcam and body cam videos.
"It was the most humiliating experience I've ever been through, also due to the fact people were driving by very slowley (sic), watching him with his hand down my pants," the driver, identified in the motion as Jack Levine, says in his motion.
He argues in the motion State Police repeatedly delayed requests from his attorneys for dashcam videos and other recordings — and it wasn't until months later, when he watched a video as part of an internal affairs investigation, that he realized not just one but both responding officers had violated his rights by searching his intimate areas. Paff said he believes the motion was ultimately denied, though New Jersey 101.5 has not yet confirmed that directly with the Superior Court.
In the video published by Paff — from the perspective of Trooper Andrew Whitmore — Levine's passenger, a coworker, is seen in the back of one troop car, and Levine in the other. Whitmore tells the passenger that "it's not like TV" — that marijuana possession isn't an offense that will land him in jail — and urges him to disclose where the pot the troopers say they smelled might be. But the passenger says it's not his car, and he doesn't have any marijuana.
Whitmore speaks to Drew, and tells him, "The dude that I removed, the driver, I moved him and put him in the back of my vehicle. My vehicle reeks."
Most of the rest of the video — edited for length by Paff to about 24 minutes and edited down further in the copy presented by New Jersey 101.5 above — reflects the two troopers' interactions with Levine. Although his name is in the court filing, State Police pixelated both his and his passenger's face in the video they disclosed to Paff.
"He might have stashed it somewhere ..." Whitmore says.
"That's what I'm thinking," Drew responds.
"... stashed it somewhere where we can't just ... physically can't ... it's not in his pockets," Whitmore says.
The first search depicted on the video shows Drew patting down the outside of Levine's pants, and using his finger to pull the pants forward so he can look inside. "Try not to rape me, already," Levine says. When Drew tells him to empty out any money he has in his pants, Levine tells the officer money has "a lot of germs on it" — prompting the "If you think this is the worst thing I'm going to do to you" line.
Whitmore is also seen feeling and searching Levine — he says to Drew that they "definitely get an odor" when opening Levine's pants. Levine protests throughout, calling the searches "ridiculous" and saying he needs to go to work moving sheetrock.
"You want me to take my boxers off right here so I don't have to waste your time and go downtown 'cause you think I got weed?" he says.
Whitmore tells him, as he told the passenger, that marijuana won't land him in the county jail.
"I know how life works," Levine says. "I'm not stupid."
Throughout the encounter, the officers tell him repeatedly he reeks of marijuana. He tells them repeatedly he doesn't have any.
"Am I free to go?" Levine asks. "Not at this point, no" Whitmore tells him. "Am I under arrest?" "Yes. you are." "For what?" "You're under arrest for the odor of marijuana."
"So now you can get arrested for somebody smelling something? What is that all about?" Levine says.
The officers tell Levine they might bring him back to their station for a strip search.
"If that's you guys trying to scare me into telling on myself for something I didn't even do wrong, then it's not going to work," he says.
Eventually, Drew tells Levine: "If it comes down to, I have to put on latex gloves and get after it, I will."
"Yo, you can bring me down. You do what you got to do. You are not sticking those gloves up me," Levine says when approached again. He reminds the officers they'll be captured on bodycams.
The police put him back in the car at one point, and then when he refuses to get back out, they pull him out — Drew threatening first that if Levine doesn't tell him where the marijuana is, "I'm gonna go get it." Levine asks to go in front of one of the police cars so the coming search will be captured on a dashcam as well.
Levine says in his motion that he believes Drew hadn't wanted to search him there, where there would be another recording — but Drew does agree to in the video.
Drew then begins the search, down Levine's underwear.
"Yo — what — yo - you are really on some wild-ass shit right now," Levine shouts. "Oh, man, I can't wait. Whoo-hoo. You better hope this is legal."
He continues: "Did you find it? Did you find it? Yo, you guys are really ridiculous. You might as well ask me on a f--king date.
The officer turns him around and unzips his pants to search further. Levine shouts out "yo, this motherf--ker's a f-gg-t."
"Man, I think I'm traumatized. That was really f--king weird," he says at one point.
Drew tells Levine to stop moving as he searches Levine's front.
"Yo, yo, he's doing some real crazy s--t right now, yo." Levine says. And then: "Yo, I can't believe this is f--king happening, just because a f--king cops says he smells weed."
After the searches turn up nothing, the officers uncuff both men and walk them to their car. Drew waits alongside traffic with Levine by the side of the road for a moment before walking him to the driver's side door.
"I know you just sexually assaulted me, but I'm not going to kill myself," Levine tells him.
As the officers speak after the encounter, Whitmore tells Drew: "Either he had some strong-ass weed just a minute ago before you stopped him, or" and then trails off.
Drew ultimately returns to the passenger side to issue Levine a ticket for tailgating, and tells him if he believes his rights were violated, his name and information are on the ticket.
Paff said he has a hard time believing the simple smell of marijuana could justify such an invasive search. He noted that while losing the motion to extent the tort claim prevents him from pursuing the case in Superior Court, he could still file a federal claim.
"It seems like a stretch," Paff said.
State Police, reached by New Jersey 101.5 Monday afternoon, said they were aware of the video and were preparing a statement. As of early Monday evening, none had been received.
Levine's lawyer, Arthur Lang, declined comment.
An earlier version of this story described troopers as apparently searching Levine's anus during the search. His certification describes the search as "down the crack of my buttocks." The story has been updated.
More from New Jersey 101.5: