MILLVILLE — A police officer with a history of violence was spared from jail or prison on Friday after a judge sentenced him to two years of probation.

Joseph Dixon, 29, of Millville, had pleaded guilty in November to two counts of third-degree aggravated assault against two women he injured during what prosecutors described as needlessly brutal arrests. One woman was left with several broken ribs.

Third-degree felonies can be punished with prison sentences of three to five years but unlike with more serious crimes, first-time offenders can avoid incarceration.

Dixon resigned from the Millville Police Department and is now barred by the court from ever working in law enforcement or government in the state. The municipality also faces lawsuits by the victims.

On Feb. 25, 2018, Dixon body-slammed a woman he arrested on a drunk-driving charge. Prosecutors said the woman had asked to call her husband and turned to face Dixon twice while he was handcuffing her. In response to that, Dixon "grabbed the woman around the neck, flipped her over his extended leg, and threw her to the ground," the state Attorney General's Office said in a statement announcing the sentencing. "He then dropped on top of her to handcuff her."

Dixon then proceeded to ignore the woman's pleas for medical attention, including her complaints of not being able to breathe because of her possibly broken ribs.

"Instead, Dixon told her that if she could talk, she could breathe, and he drove her to the police station for breath testing and processing," prosecutors recounted Friday. "Dixon failed to note that the woman complained of broken ribs in his investigative report, and he indicated in his use-of-force report that no injuries occurred. In fact, the woman suffered seven broken ribs, one of which had to be removed."

On March 24, 2018, Dixon arrested a woman at a supermarket after she argued with him because she did not have the identification that officers wanted in order to release her child, who had been accused of shoplifting.

"When the woman backed away from Dixon, he grabbed her upper body with both arms, flipped her over, and slammed her down on the floor," prosecutors said. "He then dropped on top of her and used pepper spray on her while handcuffing her, despite the immediate presence of dozens of people of varying ages, many of whom reacted to the spray."

Dixon sent the women to the police station instead of the hospital. The woman was hospitalized after arriving at the station because her relatives called for an ambulance. She was treated for a bruised hip and burning eyes from the pepper spray.

Police use-of-force data compiled by NJ.com's Force Report shows that Dixon used force during arrests more times than all but two police officers in the entire state of New Jersey.

Use of force is not the same as brutality or wrongdoing but an above-average number could raise red flags, as it did in his case.

From 2012 to 2016, Dixon recorded 58 uses of force, according to the database. The department average was nine and the Millville officer with the next highest count had just 36.

Nearly 70% of the suspects Dixon used force with were black; the city's population was less than 20% black. Compared to fellow cops in his department, Dixon was more likely to punch and kick people, the database shows. Almost a third of the people on which he used force were injured, he claimed, more than the department average of just under 26%.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Friday that the case "reflects our resolve to hold officers accountable if they use violent force against civilians without justification."

“When officers use force that has no reasonable relationship to any resistance or threat they face, as Dixon did, they not only injure and traumatize those involved, they do a tremendous disservice to all of their fellow officers who uphold the highest law enforcement standards and work hard to secure the trust of the communities they serve," Grewal said.

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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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