Asbury Park, NJ — On a regular basis, individuals contact the Free Thought Project and ask us how they go about exposing cops who have violated their rights. TFTP often responds to these individuals by advising them to gather evidence and seek out an attorney or file a complaint with another department. Because of the nature of so many of our stories that we cover, many of these folks tell us that they are scared to file complaints with the departments out of fear of retaliation. As the following incident illustrates, this retaliation is real and is carried out by cops on innocent people for attempting to hold them accountable.
Two Asbury Park police officers Stephen Martinsen, 29, and Thomas Dowling, 26, were charged last year with conspiracy, criminal mischief and weapons offenses. The officers were caught dressing up in disguises and vandalizing two vehicles belonging to 70-year-old Ernest Mignoli.
This week, they both pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal mischief and as part of their plea deals they must forfeit any future public employment in the state, according to a statement from Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.
“Spiteful retaliation from law enforcement officers towards a citizen for any reason is an unacceptable option. This is in no way condoned at any level, for any reason,” Gramiccioni said in the statement. “All members of the law enforcement community must maintain the public’s trust by conducting themselves at the highest level of integrity and decency.”
The officers will also have to pay for the damage they caused to the man’s car and will likely be put on probation after they are sentenced in October.
As TFTP reported at the time, last September, Mignoli found his Jeep Liberty and Toyota Prius with their tires slashed and their windows smashed in. Mignoli told reporters that his “jaw dropped” when he found out that the perpetrators of these crimes were cops.
It wasn’t just any cops, however. Earlier in the week, Mignoli filed complaints against the two officers who have now pleaded guilty to the crime.
“I just wouldn’t think it would be in the scope of police officers to do something like that,” Mignoli said. “I’m a concerned citizen, outspoken critic of Asbury Park Police Department. But this goes behind the pale.”
Mignoli explained to NJ.com that his police accountability activism has put a target on his back and has led to him constantly being harassed. Although he wouldn’t elaborate on the nature of the complaints, Mignoli explained that he has been keeping a watchful eye on police in the area since he moved there 12 years ago.
“I’m constantly harassed by police wherever I go,” he said. “It’s just the nature of my work.”
The department released a statement praising the job they did in holding these cops accountable.
“The cooperative efforts of the Asbury Park Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office’s Professional Responsibility Unit is a clear example of how effective our current internal affairs policies are,” Asbury Park Police Chief David Kelso said in a statement. “These officers were held accountable for their actions and misconduct and we will continue to hold our officers responsible to build upon the trust of the community that we serve.”
The idea that two police officers—whose ostensible duties include serving the citizens of Asbury park—would dress up in disguises and destroy a man’s cars for filing a complaint against them, is shocking. However, it is not uncommon.
As we previously reported, a deputy with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office was allowed to quietly resign last month amid an investigation into his retaliatory actions against an innocent family. Deputy Lance Chambers was caught on video throwing nails into a family’s driveway over a series of complaints they filed against him.
Also, former officer William Dukes Jr. of the Providence Police Department was sentenced to four years in a cage for the horrifying treatment, abuse, and kidnapping of an innocent man—all for filing a complaint against him.
According to the DoJ, upon arriving at the victim’s home after 1 a.m., Dukes attempted to arrest the victim based solely on the phone calls he had made complaining about Dukes. When the victim insisted he had done nothing wrong and retreated into his home, Dukes entered the victim’s home without a warrant. Dukes then tased the victim, sprayed him in the face with pepper spray, struck him repeatedly with a police baton, and punched him in the face, breaking the victim’s nose. Next, Dukes handcuffed the victim and charged him with four crimes, including a charge of property damage because blood from the victim’s broken nose got onto Dukes’s police uniform.
How many other innocent people have had their property vandalized, been arrested, and had their lives ruined by cops retaliating for a complaint? We’re betting that number is likely pretty high.