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State Police Officer Facing Complaint For Excessive Force In Improper Ejection From State House

The Fog of Authoritarianism and Thuggery Emanates From The Top

[Updates below]

I was forcefully – and painfully – ejected from the State House by a State Trooper on Monday morning before the Trump – Electoral College protest. 

In addition to using excessive force, there was no valid reason for the ejection and the circumstances strongly suggest improper motives by the Trooper.

In response, I filed a complaint with the State Police, accusing the officer of using excessive force, exercising poor judgement, abusing his power and violating my rights by preventing me from speaking with a Senate staffer and news reporter, and getting a copy of pending legislation. Here’s the story.

While I thought it was an odd time to start a State House protest, I arrived promptly at 8 am for the Electoral College protest, as scheduled by the organizers. The place was empty.

So, assuming it would start later, I went into the State House to keep warm, get a cup of coffee at the Cafe, and to pick up a copy of the amended version of the Natural Resource Damages (NRD) dedication Resolution SCR39 from the bill room. Just last week I corresponded with Senator Smith’s Office on that. All routine Statehouse practices I’ve done for many years.

There is a security screening procedure in entering the State House manned by State Troopers: a metal detector, mandatory ID check, and a sign in book with purpose and destination of your visit. Visitors get a pass that must be displayed. All longstanding and routine procedure.

I entered via the front door of the State House and after the security screening, I proceeded to the Cafe.

As I was leaving the Cafe and heading to the bill room, I passed the rear security check in and engaged in a conversation with a State Police officer manning the security check in at the rear of the State House. I was joking about looking for Trump delegates trying to sneak in the back door. The Trooper was curious about what I was talking about.

I told him that a protest was planned for the State House steps and expressed surprise that he apparently was unaware and so gave him a heads up.

He asked me if I had a permit and said that if there were more than 8 people, the State Police would disperse the crowd. I told him it was not my protest, that I had no idea about who organized it and whether they got permits.

He asked me why people were protesting. We then got into a brief debate about the electoral college.

In hindsight, I probably pissed him off by being pedantic, arrogant, and condescending in explaining the history and Constitutional function of the electoral college (blame Harvard Law’s Professor Lessig!):

The Electoral College, which is written into the Constitution, is more than just a vestige of the founding era; it is a living symbol of America’s original sin. When slavery was the law of the land, a direct popular vote would have disadvantaged the Southern states, with their large disenfranchised populations. Counting those men and women as three-fifths of a white person, as the Constitution originally did, gave the slave states more electoral votes.

I guess it’s not a good idea to get into an academic debate with a Trooper.

His reply was (these are very close to verbatim quotes):

“Why should 67 heavily populated counties dictate to the thousands of other counties that make up the country?” … “Why should they dictate my culture?” …  “You shouldn’t be able to vote yourself a raise“.

(Yes, he actually used the word “culture”. Was he referring to “white culture”? He seemed to get pissed when I told him that the Constitution provided no protections for his “culture”. I also was surprised that he seemed to be aware of the general issues of the debate on the Electoral College, because he mentioned a specific number of urban versus rural counties. He must have read that somewhere. I assumed the remark about “voting a raise” was a reference to the proposed Constitutional amendment on the minimum wage. So, was our Trooper some right wing white nationalist Trump supporter? Did he have a political animus to a leftist Trump protester?)

Just as I was explaining the flaws in his argument, a group of people were going through the screening, including a longtime colleague Senate staffer Kevil Duhon (former staff to the Environment Committee).

I greeted and joked with Kevil about the Trump delegates. I wished him happy holidays and patted his shoulder (we may have shaken hands as well, not sure).

The group also included State House radio reporter Phil Gregory, who often has stories on NPR and other NJ radio outlets. As Phil was passing Kevil and I, I asked him if he was covering the Trump Electoral College protest.

At that point, the Trooper demanded that I stop “harassing people”. He then demanded my identification.

I showed him the Visitor’s Pass on my chest and asked him why he needed to see my ID when I already produced that at the front security desk.

He replied because I was “harassing people”.

I advised him that Kevil was a professional colleague and friend and Phil was media and that it was routine to talk to them in the hallways of the State House. I denied that I was harassing anyone and refused to produce my ID saying he lacked a valid reason for requesting it and that I already produced it at the front security desk.

The Trooper then said that I had to leave the building.

I replied “OK, then I’ll go out the same way I came in” and turned and walked away.

After a few steps up the hallway, the Trooper, from my rear, ran up, grabbed my left wrist with one hand and my left elbow with the other and painfully twisted my arm, forcing me to a halt. (I have a bad rotator cuff in my left shoulder and little range of motion. I had surgery to repair my right rotator cuff about 12 years ago.)

He said, “Oh no you won’t – you are going out this door”.

Then, as he was twisting my arm and had me writhing in pain, literally bum rushed me some 30 feet down the hall and shoved me out an emergency door of the rear of the State House. As he was slamming the door, he claimed “And you smell of alcohol”.

(It was 8:20 am – I never drink before noon! I was reminded of the pretextual bullshit in all those murderous videos: “stop resisting” “he’s going for my gun” “watch out for the gun”, etc).

So, I walked around the Annex and State House and went back to the front security checkpoint and asked to file a complaint.

Curiously, in interviewing me, the Commanding Officer refused to give me the Trooper’s name and badge number required by the complaint form. He also claimed that I had become “combative” (his word) with the Trooper. I objected immediately and told him that we needed more civilian control of the military and the State Police.

Less than an hour after I filed the complaint, I got a call from State Policed investigators – funny, they didn’t know that their own State House Office faxed the complaint to them and asked my if I was the one who faxed it to them! The interview went well and it was the first interaction with State Police that day that met professional standards.

We’ll keep you posted on the outcome.

[Update #1: 1/13/17 – I got a certified mail letter today from the State Police acknowledging receipt of my December 19, 2016 complaint and advising that:

The New Jersey State Police Office of Professional Standards is currently in the process of performing a preliminary review of the complaint. At the conclusion of this review, you will be contacted by someone from my office with regard to its findings and the status of the complaint.

The boldface phrase was in the original letter, which I find odd as it highlights the fact that the review is being conducted without a detailed or sworn interview with me, the complainant.

I filed a brief written complaint on December 19, shortly after the event on a State Police form – I identified 2 witnesses, one of which (Kevin Duhon) was called in my presence by State police – and had a phone conversation about an hour afterward with a State Police officer. So, I guess that information is adequate at this point.

We’ll keep you posted.

[Update #2 – 1/27/17 – On Monday (1/23/17) I got a call from a State Police Captain who conducted a thorough phone interview of my version of what happened. He will render a decision in 10 days or so.

I learned that there is a video of the incident, which he told me he watched and said that corroborates my story. Captain went out of his way to admit that at no time did I look threatening or “combative”. It seems there is one difference in the story the Officer told him versus what I told him. Officer claimed he directed me out the emergency door before he grabbed me and bum rushed me out. I don’t recall it that way. I distinctly recall him saying that I would leave via that door after he grabbed me.

[Update #3 – 2/2/17 A very interesting article at The Intercept – I wonder if there has been infiltration of the NJ State Police? The subject officer’s comments hinted at a “cultural” agenda.

[Update #4 – Not surprisingly, the State Police Office of Professional Standards dismissed the complaint. I recently heard about it verbally and did not receive their letter because I am on the road.

All I can say is that NJ State Police “professional standards” are pretty low when they allow that kind of conduct – which included physical abuse and an appearance of political motivation and suppression of political speech at the State Capitol- to go unpunished.]

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