Toms River cop investigated after threatening to arrest cameraman
TOMS RIVER — The township police department is investigating an encounter between a civil liberties activist and an officer that the citizen recorded on video.
The 11-minute video posted Jan. 4 on YouTube (see it below), shows the citizen arguing with Officer Frank Moschella outside the police headquarters about having to provide the officer with identification, which the camerman insists he does not have to do.
The video ends with Moschella's supervisor correcting the officer — twice — and siding with the activist, whose YouTube channel is called Police State: New Jersey.
On the department's Facebook page, Chief Mitchell Little said he had "received a number of comments and inquiries regarding" the video.
"The matter is being investigated and addressed as any other incidents that have come to our attention," his statement says. "Any actions by members of this department found to be against law or policy will be corrected. We appreciate constructive criticism and the views of the public to assist us in serving you better."
The videographer was not arrested during the encounter.
The video begins with the cameraman walking around the police complex, narrating what he sees. He's approached by Moschella, who asks him what he's doing. The cameraman responds that he's taking footage for a report about Toms River. That's when Moschella asks the cameraman if he can provide identification, which the cameraman declines to do.
"You're not in trouble in any way, shape or form," Moschella says.
"OK, then I don't need to give ID," the cameraman says. "You don't need to verify who I am. I have a right to privacy in public."
Moschella claims he received a call about a "suspicious" person and threatens to arrest the cameraman for "obstruction."
The cameraman asks Moschella to cite the state law that defines "suspicious."
When Sgt. Dan Ruiz arrives, he asks the cameraman what he is doing and tells him that he's allowed to record as long as he minds the no-trespassing signs.
"You can walk around with your camera," Ruiz says. "You don't have to show your ID."
Later in the video, five officers, including Moschella and Ruiz, wait outside as the cameraman records through the glass doors of the entrance.
The cameraman approaches Moschella and requests his name and badge number, which Moschella declines to provide. Ruiz then quickly provides the identifying information for both Moschella and himself.
"Thank you Sgt. Ruiz for doing your duty and knowing the law," the cameraman says on his YouTube channel. "The other three officers were going to stand by and not just allow this to happen, but assist Moschella in breaking the law, violating my rights, and failing the public trust."
Moschella's online resume says he has been on the Toms River force for eight years and previously worked as a special police officer for Sea Girt and as a retail security guard.
According to the police use-of-force database compiled by Force.NJ.com, Moschella used force at a higher rate than the average officer in the state. The people he arrested also were more likely to be injured that those arrested by his Toms River colleagues, while Moschella himself was more likely to be injured than others on the force, according to the database.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, police in this state cannot stop citizens on the street and demand their names or identification unless the officer is in the process of issuing a court summons. The same is not true, however, if a driver is pulled over. Drivers are required to show a license, registration and proof of insurance.
The ACLU-NJ says that people stopped by police are not required to speak or consent to searches but they should not resist arrest, "even if you’re innocent or if you think the police or ICE are acting unfairly or unlawfully."
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.