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Photographer arrested at crash scene says Toms River cop violated his rights

TOMS RIVER — A township resident who said he was arrested while taking pictures of a crash involving a scooter says he is planning to sue the township.

Paul C. Williams wrote on his Facebook page that he took pictures of a crash involving a motor scooter on Lakehurst Road at the entrance to the Garden State Parkway on Monday. He said Officer Kenneth J. Thomas arrested and charged him with obstruction as he was walking away from the scene.

Williams said he is drafting a lawsuit he plans to file in federal court against the department. “I will be filing a Section 1983 lawsuit for a variety of things but mostly a First Amendment violation.  Then I will also be asking the court for an injunction,” he said.

Williams, a former legal assistant who now works as a full-time photographer, said he has photographed various crime and accident scenes in and around Toms River, including an incident on March at a Toms River apartment building in which police fatally shot a 56-year-old man.  The Asbury Park Press published his photos.  He said he has media credentials issued by the New Jersey Press Association.

“My girlfriend laughs at me because we don’t live far from where the fire siren is, so every time I hear it I peek up and wonder if there’s a fire and I should go take pictures,” Williams told New Jersey 101.5.

Willlams has filed a Citizen Complaint Information form with Toms River Police and provided a copy to New Jersey 101.5. There are no specific allegations spelled out on the form.

In an audio recording Williams made of the arrest, an officer instructs Williams to not go past a bike. Williams tells the officer he was heading to his car. The officer becomes more agitated as their conversation continues, repeating that it’s not where he told Williams to go. When Williams asks him to “either take me in or let me go,” cuffs are heard being put on Williams as he is put into the cruiser.

  • Officer: Do not go past the bike.
  • Williams: Where’s the sign?
  • Officer: Do not go past the light. Come over here, take all the pictures you like.
  • Williams: How about I step on the other side of that?
  • Officer: Come over here on this side of the bike or you’re going to jail. I’m counting to 3. (pause) Sir, come here. You’re under arrest.
  • Williams: Can I put the camera down?
  • Officer: Put the camera down. I told you to move. This is an active scene
  • Williams: I’m going to my car.
  • Officer: Did I tell you go to on the other side of the bike?
  • Williams: I’m going to my car.
  • Officer: Where’s your car?
  • Williams: Right down there.
  • Officer: Where did I tell you to go?
  • Williams: I heard what you said.
  • Officer: Why did you go that way?
  • Williams: To go to my car.
  • Officer: Did I tell you to go to your car? What did I tell you to do?
  • Williams: But you didn’t realize —
  • Officer: I don’t care about your car. I told you where to go did I not?
  • Williams: I heard what you said.
  • Officer: Did I not tell you where to go? Did I not tell you where to go?
  • Williams: If this is what you want to do.
  • Officer: Did I not tell you where to go?
  • Williams: There’s nothing to talk about.
  • Officer: Did I not tell you where to go?
  • Williams: Either take me in or let me go (sounds of handcuffs clinking and being tightened)
  • Officer: See, sir, we’re not playing games here.
  • Williams: There’s no game. I’m going to my car.
  • Officer: You’re not going to your car. I told you where to go and you ignored me. C’mon.
  • Williams: Can I have my camera please?

Williams said he did remove several pictures from online “out of an abundance of respect and deference for the family of the victim and the victim himself, who I understand has succumb to his injuries, I have decided to delete all but one image.”

Toms River Police Chief Mitch Little confirmed the arrest and charges to New Jersey 101.5 in an email.

“On Sunday July 30th at approximately 8:45 pm Paul C. Williams, 47, of Toms River was arrested at the scene of a potential fatal motor vehicle crash on Lakehurst Road near the Garden State Parkway. He was charged with obstructing an investigation by Officer Kenneth Thomas and released on a summons pending a future court date. Mr. Williams subsequently filed an internal affairs complaint against Officer Thomas. The incident is being investigated by this department. As such, we cannot comment further at this time.”

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