BLOOMFIELD, NJ — A man who was pulled out of his car and beaten by Bloomfield police on the Garden State Parkway in 2012 will get $1.6 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit against the township and several of its police officers, according to his attorneys.
More than six years after he was almost sent to jail on charges of eluding, resisting arrest, aggravated assault and attempting to disarm a police officer, Marcus Jeter says that he still gets a chill when he sees a police car.
“The events of that night [on June 7, 2012] have fundamentally affected me and my view of the world,” said Jeter. “While I still struggle with anxiety whenever I see a police car or see instances of police brutality on the news, I am grateful to close this chapter and can hopefully continue on my path of getting my life back in order. I hope that my ordeal sheds light on this kind of unlawful conduct by law enforcement officers and empowers other people falsely accused of crimes – and prosecutors – to take a public stand against such conduct.”
“What happened to Mr. Jeter sounds like something we would expect in some far-away totalitarian regime with no regard for truth or due process, not the great state of New Jersey,” said Jeter’s attorney Tracey Hinson of Princeton-based Hinson Snipes LLP, who filed the federal civil rights lawsuit on Jeter’s behalf.
“The vast majority of police officers in New Jersey and across the country faithfully serve their citizens,” Hinson said. “But some are not fit to be police officers. When police officers act like they are above the laws that they swear to protect, they must be held accountable by prosecutors and citizens alike. This case is important because it demonstrates that no one is above the law.”
According to previous statements from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, the incident took place in June of 2012 when officers were called to Jeter’s home in Bloomfield after an alleged verbal dispute with his girlfriend.
During the encounter, Jeter voluntarily left the premises in his car, but Sean Courter, a former Bloomfield Police Department officer and Belleville native, followed him onto the Garden State Parkway and pulled him over. The officer attempted to get Jeter to leave his car, but Jeter refused, later alleging that he feared for his life, prosecutors said.
Courter called for backup and soon, Orlando Trinidad of Bloomfield arrived on the scene and struck the front of Jeter’s car. Courter then broke the vehicle’s window and with the help of Trinidad, dragged Jeter out, prosecutors said.
In an act of violence captured by one of the patrol cars’ dashcams, one of the officers then repeatedly struck Jeter, even though his hands were “up in a surrender position throughout the encounter,” according to prosecutors.
Following the incident, Courter and Trinidad wrote police reports stating that Jeter attempted to grab Courter’s gun and that he struck Trinidad. Based on those reports, Jeter was charged with eluding, resisting arrest, aggravated assault and attempting to disarm a police officer.
Jeter faced at least five years in prison for the above charges, his attorney said.
After Jeter’s attorney successfully argued for the release of the dashcam video via an OPRA request, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the charged against Jeter and opened an investigation into the officers.
An Essex County Grand Jury indicted the two in January of 2014.
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After a five-week trial, the jury found Courter and Trinidad guilty of conspiracy to commit official misconduct, official misconduct, tampering with public records, falsifying public records and false swearing. In addition, Trinidad was also found guilty of simple assault. They were each sentenced to five years in prison.
A third Bloomfield police officer, Albert Sutterlin, pleaded guilty in October 2013 to falsifying and tampering with records and resigned from the police department, prosecutors stated.
An initial internal affairs investigation found no wrongdoing by the officers, a decision that Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia blasted in 2014 after the dashboard camera footage was released.
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