Hero cops, wild chases, drunk officers — stories dashcams made possible
TRENTON — A divided New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that police dash camera video recordings are not available under state public records law — a ruling that could have a major impact on media organizations' ability to shine light on police activity.
The 4-3 ruling issued Monday found that because there's no law mandating the recordings be made, they aren't subject to disclosure.
It stemmed from an open records advocate's request for video of an arrest made in Barnegat, where the town's police chief had issued an order requiring officers to use the cameras on their car. The justice's found the chief's directive doesn't carry the force of law.
The state top court's decision overturns a ruling issued by a divided state appellate court, which upheld a lower court ruling. It comes a year after the state Supreme Court ruled that dash camera video of fatal police shootings should be released.
On Facebook, John Paff, the records advocate, noted that a dissent by Associate Justice Barry T. Albin said the ruling "undermines the effectiveness of (public records law) in an area where the transparency of the government’s conduct in its affairs with the public is of critical importance to an informed citizenry."
"In the wake of today’s majority opinion, the operations of our government will be less transparent and our citizenry less informed, which may lead to greater misunderstanding and more distrust between the public and the police," Albin wrote.
Among the New Jersey 101.5 stories made possible because of access to dashcam recordings:
COP SWEARS 'I'M NOT DRUNK:' The first thing an allegedly inebriated on-duty state trooper told another arriving officer after a panicked woman called 911, saying she was afraid for her life? "I'm not drunk." New Jersey 101.5 in 2015 obtained dashboard camera recordings from the two vehicles responding after Kimberly Wilson called 911 from the Monmouth Rest Area along the Garden State Parkway. She reported a trooper later identified as Sgt. Michael Roadside — a 30-year veteran of the force — was so sloppy-drunk when he crashed into her at the rest stop that he had vomit on his inside-out shirt, that he dropped his magazine and a Budd Light cap while trying to show her his weapon, and that his belly was hanging out.
BOARD MEMBER CALLS COP A SKINHEAD: A New Jersey school board member who was caught on camera cursing at a police officer and calling the chief a "skinhead cop" eventually apologized for her behavior earlier this year — saying it was an "irrational response." Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad, who is black, can be heard telling the white police officer that she's "scared of cops because you guys hurt black people." The South Orange-Maplewood Black Parents Workshop had released a copy of the dashcam video and called on Lawson-Muhammad to “issue a public apology to this officer.”
SEARCHED ALL OVER: Bodycam video made public in April 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. After an extensive search, throughout which the man denied having pot, officers found none. He's now suing the officers for the search — and for releasing the video.
DEADLY HIGH-SPEED CHASE: A July 5 police chase ended in a crash that killed a speeding biker and, eventually, an innocent driver. Dashcam video shows that the officer momentarily reached a top speed of 82 mph before 22-year-old township Anthony Griffin crashed into the side of a vehicle. The chase lasted about 40 seconds.
RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT: A lawyer who alleged she was threatened with arrest for not answering a State Police officer's questions during a traffic stop agreed last year to a $30,000 settlement in a federal lawsuit. “Are you detaining me because I refused to speak?” Rebecca Musarra asks an officer in a dashcam recording. “Yeah,” the officer says, as he leads her to a patrol car. “Obstruction.” The officer says “it didn’t have to go this way,” to which she replies “if only I didn’t exercise my rights.”
"YOU MAY SHUT THE F**K UP:" Former Port Authority Commissioner Caren Turner ultimately had to issue an apology for her behavior at her daughter’s traffic stop, where she repeatedly reminded officers of her position and threatened to talk to other notable public officials about the incident. She flashed a gold badge as well, but the officers weren't impressed. "You may not tell me when to take my daughter," she eventually told one officer. "You may shut the f*** up." The officers were widely praised for their professionalism as Turner seemed to try to exert pressure on them.
RECKLESS POLICE CHASES? A 2015 NJ1015.com report spoke to prosecutors questioning whether Palisades Interstate Park Police police chasing a murder suspect — speeding in and out of heavy traffic and, in one stretch, heading into oncoming traffic — put more lives in danger in the pursuit, and whether they violated state rules meant to keep the public safe. The department was eventually put under monitoring by the Bergen prosecutor's office, and a resulting report found he Palisades officers routinely risked public safety through needless chases, with or without permission.
COP SAVED MAN FROM SUICIDE: An 18-year veteran of the Riverdale Police Department saved a man from jumping off a Route 287 bridge in 2016. In a dashcam recording, Sgt. Greg Bogert is heard. "No, no, no, no, don't. Come here!" as the man sobs. Bogert and the man come into view, the sergeant chasing the man as he runs for a concrete barrier along the side of the road. "Come here, man! Don't do it! Don't f--king do it!" Bogert wrestles the man to the ground, saving his life.
(Includes material 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)