Following is the New Jersey Libertarian Party Police Accountability Project's open letter to the mayor and council of Merchantville Borough (Camden County).
At issue is: A motor vehicle stop and an arrest were made by Merchantville Police officers in another municipality and a judge found that no probable cause existed for the stop. The stopped and arrested
motorist sued the police and recovered an $11,000 settlement. Yet, the Mercantville Internal Affairs Unit found that the officers "followed the appropriate departmental policies and procedures."
July 19, 2011
Hon. Frank M. North, Mayor and members of the Merchantville Borough Council
1 West Maple Avenue
RE: Merchantville Dismisses Police Internal Affairs Complaint
Dear Mayor North and Council members:
I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project. On May 24, 2011, the Project filed an Internal Affairs Complaint against Merchantville Police Sergeant Jeffrey Brocious, Sergeant Michael Reilly and Officer Matthew Rulli. The basis for the complaint was a May 29, 2008 order by Superior Court Judge William J. Cook holding that the three officers stopped a vehicle owned by Pennsauken resident William Donia and arrested him despite there being any probable cause for the stop.
In his May 28, 2008 ruling, Judge Cook reversed the January 10, 2008 holdings of Merchantville Municipal Court Judge Oren R. Thomas, III that convicted Donia of drunk driving, refusing to submit to a breath test and careless driving. In his decision, Judge Cook found that "there was no probable cause for the police to stop Alan Donia's vehicle and arrest him, nor was there any other lawful basis for the motor vehicle stop under the community caretaking function, or was there any other lawful basis." Judge Cook further found that since the stop and arrest took place in Pennsauken, "the Merchantville Municipal Court lacked jurisdiction" to hear the matter.
After Cook's decision, Donia sued the Borough of Merchantville and on May 11, 2011 the Borough paid him $11,000 to settle his his suit. (For suit documents, see my blog entry)
Despite Judge Cook's ruling, Detective Sergeant Stephen Morrone of the Merchantville Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit dismissed our Internal Affairs complaint against the arresting officers. Morrone gave no reasons for the dismissal except to state that "a review of all information available to [him] would indicate that the named police officers followed the appropriate departmental policies and procedures." Our complaint, Judge Cook's decision, the police department's response and other documents are on-line here: http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/2011199iw//MerchantvilleIA.pdf
Sergeant Morrone's response is bewildering. Is the public to understand that it is permissible, under the Merchantville Police Department's regulations, for its police officers to stop and arrest motorists without probable cause in a neighboring town? Are these officers to suffer no consequences even though their actions resulted in the Borough paying $11,000 to the motorist who was improperly stopped and arrested?
I look forward to learning the Mayor's and Council's position on this matter.
John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Police Accountability Project