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Open Government Advocacy Project:
Air Force Captain sues Pemberton Twp Police
 

Issue Detail:

 
On January 6, 2011, Evan Reece, a Pemberton Township resident and Air Force Captain, filed a federal lawsuit against Pemberton Township Police Chief Robert Lewandowski, Sergeant Paul Delagarza and Patrolmen John Hall and Jason Gant for unlawfully entering into his California Trail home and arresting him. The suit arises out a January 7, 2009 visit to Reece's home by police who said that a "dropped" 911 call had been traced to Reece's home. Reece claims that after he informed officers that there was no emergency, Delagarza asked for consent to enter the home and look around. Reece claims that he denied consent and "closed his door to end the encounter." Reece then claimed that Delagarza, Gant and Hall "suddenly forced open the door" and took Reece, who claims to have not resisted, to the floor, struck him repeatedly in the face and "choked him about the neck." He claims that the officers falsely charged him with assault, obstruction of justice and resisting arrest. The lawsuit does not say whether Reece was convicted or acquitted of those charges. The lawsuit is on-line at Is there more to this story? In order to find out, I submitted the following records request to Pemberton Township today: Background: On January 6, 2011, Evan Reece filed a lawsuit against the Township of Pemberton and several members of Pemberton's police department for alleged police misconduct arising out of January 7, 2009 incident at 423 California Trail, Pemberton. The case is captioned Evan Reece v. Township of Pemberton, et al, Federal Civil Case No. 1:11-cv-00077. The lawsuit is on-line here: In his suit, Reece claimed that Sergeant Delagarza and Patrolmen Gant and Hall, without consent to enter or warrant "suddenly forced open the door" of his home and took him to the floor, struck him repeatedly in the face and "choked him about the neck." He claims that the officers falsely charged him with assault, obstruction of justice and resisting arrest. I realize that one cannot count on civil plaintiffs and their lawyers to tell the complete and unvarnished truth in their complaints, so the object of this request to obtain police reports regarding the incident to get the official side of the story. Records Requested: 1. Copies of "arrest reports" (also known as "police arrest reports" and "uniform arrest reports" issued in connection with the January 7, 2009 incident that formed the basis for the civil case of Reece v. Pemberton, Docket No. 1:11-cv-00077 For clarification, the reports I seek are required to be kept by Records Series 0007-0000 within Records Retention and Disposition Schedule No. M900000-004 (Municipal Police Departments) issued by the New Jersey Division of Archives and Records Management (www.njarchives.org). The requested reports are government records subject to disclosure. See Morgano v. Essex County Prosecutor's Office, Government Records Council Case No. 2007-156. 3. Copies of the "Daily Activity/Tally Sheets/Vehicle Logs" filed by Sergeant Delagarza and Patrolmen Gant and Hall on January 7, 2009. For clarification, the records I seek are required to be kept by Records Series 0021-0000 within Records Retention and Disposition Schedule No. M900000-004 (Municipal Police Departments) issued by the New Jersey Division of Archives and Records Management (www.njarchives.org). 4. Copy of the "Event Card/Complaint Card" issued in connection with the January 7, 2009 incident that formed the basis for the civil case of Reece v. Pemberton, Docket No. 1:11-cv-00077. For clarification, the reports I seek are required to be kept by Records Series 0026-0000 within Records Retention and Disposition Schedule No. M900000-004 (Municipal Police Departments) issued by the New Jersey Division of Archives and Records Management (www.njarchives.org). 5. Copy of the "Incident Reports" issued in connection with the January 7, 2009 incident that formed the basis for the civil case of Reece v. Pemberton, Docket No. 1:11-cv-00077 For clarification, the reports I seek are required to be kept by Records Series 0036-0000 within Records Retention and Disposition Schedule No. M900000-004 (Municipal Police Departments) issued by the New Jersey Division of Archives and Records Management (www.njarchives.org). 6. Copies of all "Use of Force Reports" that arose out of the January 7, 2009 incident that formed the basis for the civil case of Reece v. Pemberton, Docket No. 1:11-cv-00077. For clarification, these are the reports that the Appellate Division, on November 9, 2009, declared to be public records. See Martin O'Shea v. Township of West Milford, Docket No. A-1185-08. 7. Complaints issued against Evan Reece arising out of the January 7, 2009 incident that formed the basis for the civil case of Reece v. Pemberton, Docket No. 1:11-cv-00077. By "complaints" I mean the CDR-1, CDR-2 or other form of complaint issued in accordance with R.7:2-1. 8. Any records showing the dispositions (i.e. conviction, acquittal, plea bargain, dismissal, etc.) of the complaints responsive to #7 above. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. I then try to use the Open Public Records Act to determine whether the police acted appropriately. I believe that police using excessive force is of legitimate public concern. I also believe that litigants and attorneys who use the court system to advance fabricated or frivolous claims against the police similarly deserve public scrutiny. On the strength of a civil complaint alone, it is impossible to tell if the police conducted themselves appropriately, if the civil plaintiff fabricated or exaggerated the facts or neither or both. To complicate matters further, the vast majority of such civil cases reach settlement in which the plaintiff is paid a sum of cash and police deny liability. This makes it difficult or impossible for the public to know what really occurred. So, perhaps my records request to the Pemberton Township police will shed some light on this incident. When I receive Pemberton Township's response, I will post it on this forum. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey P.S. When civil cases settle, I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, are of interest to citizens and taxpayers.

 

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