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 this week 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.
Mignoli woke up Wednesday morning to find 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.
“It is alleged that officer Martinsen and Special Law Enforcement officer Dowling did purposely damage both vehicles, both owned by the same person,” a press release from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office said. “The vehicle owner had filed an administrative complaint against both officers several days before the vandalism incidents.”
“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.”
According to NJ.com:
Martinsen, a member of the Asbury Park police force since 2013, has been suspended without pay. Dowling was fired.
Asbury Park police Chief David Kelso said in the press release that the actions of these two officers “is not acceptable and does not represent the level of professionalism, community focus or resident safety that we expect of our officers.
“We will not let the actions of these officers overshadow the great work and dedication by the men and women of this department,” Chief Kelso said.
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, last year, 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.