Your rights in NJ: What should you do when you’re under arrest?
A viral video that captures a violent confrontation on the Wildwood beach between police and a young woman fails to reveal what led cops to pull out their cuffs.
But as officials investigate the incident and attempt to assign blame, one thing's for certain — that is not how an arrest should go down, even if the arrest is unnecessary.
"Everybody should understand that basically they're powerless if police determine that whatever they've done warrants an arrest, and then they have to cooperate and go along," said Mark Denbeaux, a professor at Seton Hall Law School in Newark.
Time and time again, minor offenses transition into felonies when individuals decide to resist arrest in some way, Denbeaux said.
And the act of resisting an arrest doesn't only include extreme measures such as kicking, spitting or attempting to flee.
"Years ago, people would lie down on the ground and the police would have to come over and pull them away — how many policemen would it take to lift the dead weight of a person lying there?" Denbeaux said. "Now there's really no passive resistance available."
According to Alexander Shalom, senior supervising attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, what an individual is allowed to do during an arrest doesn't necessarily equate to what would make an arrest as peaceful as possible.
For example, it's not illegal to use profanity towards a cop, he said — because that's likely not obstructing the administration of law — but it can certainly escalate the situation.
Determining that an individual is resisting arrest, though, would imply that person is under arrest in the first place. That's a gray area, experts say, that may be defined differently with each scenario.
Technically, an arrest is in progress when an individual is not free to leave an encounter with police. A driver stopped for a routine traffic violation is under arrest by definition. But in the midst of an interaction on the beach between cops and citizens, an arrest may not begin until a cop puts their hands on a person, or announces an arrest.
"We encourage people to actually ask, 'Am I free to leave?'" Shalom said.
In the controversial video posted to Twitter by a fellow beachgoer, two officers are seen attempting to restrain a 20-year-old woman who was allegedly approached initially for having unopened containers of alcohol on the beach.
In a Facebook post that is no longer visible to the public, the woman said she backed away and yelled for her baby's father when an officer approached with cuffs. Then the scuffle began — a scuffle that included a couple punches to her head.
An attorney for the woman said charges against her are exaggerated. The city's police chief said the two officers involved were placed on administrative duty pending an investigation.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.