Patterson, NJ -- A Patterson police officer was caught red-handed rummaging through a citizen's car and it was all caught on cell phone footage. The video has since gone viral as it clearly shows the cop callously breaking the law.
The owner of the vehicle, a Dodge Caravan, came out of the restaurant where he said he and his family were eating to confront the policeman who acted like he'd just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
The viral video which shows an unnamed Patterson, NJ officer rifling through the owner's belongings is now making waves at the Passaic County Sheriff's Office who is now investigating the matter. Predictably, they offer very few answers as to why one of their deputies would search a car and then evade questions when the car's owner asked him what he was doing inside his vehicle.
When the video starts, a man can be seen walking towards the van. A man with a dark complexion, a pony tail, and dressed in casual clothing had lifted the vehicle's back gate and was searching for something. After the owner confronted him, one could say things got a little testy.
“Yo. What is you doing? What is you in my van for?” the man screamed to the officer.
“I’ll tell you what, come here,” the officer responded with somewhat of a sheepish look on his face.
"I’m not going over there. I’m going to stay in the middle of the street," the man stated.
“Come over here. Come here," the officer demanded all the while walking back to his group of patrolmen.
“What is you in my car for when I’m sitting down, eating with my family," the owner of the vehicle asked the officer.
The Man asked the officer how He Got Into The vehicle’s trunk. “It’s open. It’s wide open,” the officer stated.
“Still. Still. You’re not supposed to be in my van, sir,” the man declared.
“We had a lot of reports of guns in this van in this neighborhood,” the officer stated.
The Sheriff's Office's spokesman William Maer told reporters on Friday, "In an effort to assure an independent investigation of the circumstances around the search video, the Sheriff referred the matter to the Prosecutor’s office for a thorough and independent review."
The prosecutor is now conducting its own investigation, apparently, into what the ACLU is now calling a criminal action on the part of the officer. However, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office would neither confirm nor deny any such investigation is underway.
Ed Barocas is the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU). He told reporters, "This is incredibly troubling and disturbing...You have an individual who appears to be a law enforcement officer entering someone’s vehicle without permission and seemingly without any lawful authority. Not only is it improper, it’s a crime.”
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Because the officer refused to answer any of the man's questions, there's reason to believe the search was unwarranted. Barocas called his actions "unprofessional" and stated, "We don’t know if it’s just an unlawful search which is bad enough itself or something more nefarious."
In the comments section of the YouTube video, residents of Patterson stated their belief the officer may have been planting evidence in the man's car. The apparent distrust some of the residents have may be based upon bad experiences many have experienced in dealing with Patterson police.
Many commented Paterson's police force is corrupt and they routinely violate the citizenry's civil rights afforded them by the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment states officers do not have the right to unreasonable searches and seizures, and if the Sheriff's office and the prosecutor's office concludes a crime has been committed by the officers involved, charges are likely to follow.
We, at TFTP, dug deeper for answers and may have stumbled upon something. In April, the Patterson Police Department bragged on Facebook about a drug bust of a couple who were using their minivan and their apartment to sell drugs.
Jahad Crayton and Bridgette Williams were arrested and charged with various drug trafficking violations. Their van, a 2005 Dodge Caravan, seems to match the same van observed in the viral video.
The couple also has three children ages 3,4, and 6, a family similar to the description the man in the video gave of his family. It's unclear if the two are related but news reports of the arrest stated the police had search warrants for both the van as well as the apartment.
But until the police are more forthcoming in their discussions with the public as to the nature of the video, conspiracies of civil rights violations, unreasonable unwarranted searches, and allegations of criminal activity on the part of Patterson police will continue to abound. The public has a right to know more.