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N.J. Cops Rain Mace on a Baby Shower

TRENTON, N.J. (CN) - Trenton police Maced and beat people at a baby shower, including five children, in a fruitless search for drugs, an extended family says in Federal Court. "No drugs or contraband were found," says the family, U.S. citizens with Latino last names.

Plaintiff Carlos Rivera says he was sitting in his kitchen when the mother of his children, Melissa Cortez, told him Trenton police were raiding their home and beating a child.

Rivera ran to his living room and saw officers hitting and choking the child, Edison Soto, and hitting, kicking and Macing the child's mother Edna Rivera.

"Why are you in my house, beating and spraying my family with Mace?" Rivera shouted.

He says police responded by putting him in a chokehold, pulling his hair, spraying him in the face with Mace, punching him in the face and arresting him.

Rivera says that all he was trying to do was "protect the children from the beating and OC spray used upon them by the officers."

Plaintiff Denise Berrios says the officers pushed her outside, and when she heard her child cry that "the police were beating her," she tried to pull the child out a window, but police pulled her hair and slammed her head against a wall.

Berrios says defendant police Det. Tara Stefano told her, "Bitch, now you're going to jail!"

Stefano referred to all the women at the baby shower as "Puerto Rican bitches" and "Spics," according to the complaint.

Berrios says she and her minor child, who had collapsed from being beaten and Maced, were both arrested.

Edna Rivera, the matriarch, was thrown to the ground while trying to protect her grandchildren. Rivera says she screamed at the officers: "Stop, stop, these are my grandkids!"

The cops then "smashed her face against the ground and Maced her in the face. She could not breathe," the complaint states.

Melissa Cortez says she told the officers that this was her home and that they had no right to beat her family, to which the cops responded: "This is not Puerto Rico, we don't owe you an explanation."

A cop then threw Cortez on top of a fish tank while another cop "grabbed Melissa Cortes's minor child, and slammed him against the wall repeatedly," the complaint states.

"A female defendant grabbed Melissa Cortes's minor daughter, and slammed her face into the steps.

"Another defendant ground his boot into the face of the minor child of Tanya Acevedo, in order to keep him on the ground.

"Defendants then ripped the house apart in an apparent search for contraband. No contraband was recovered.

"Defendants grabbed Tanya Acevedo and slammed her against the wall, pulled her hair and Maced her. Defendants slammed her on the couch, on top of several sleeping children, while spraying OC spray on her and the children.

"She stated, 'Please stop, why are you Macing the children?' A defendant responded, 'I don't give a fuck, bitch.' Another defendant stepped on her minor child's face with his boot. The minor child gasped for air as the officer again Maced the child, blocking the child's airway with his boot.

"The minor child had been strapped into his car seat and had been sleeping when the officers raided the home.

"Defendants arrested Tanya Acevedo, and placed her in the rear of a police vehicle. She screamed, 'What about my child?' Defendant Stefano replied, 'Shut up, bitch,' and OC sprayed her in the face, despite the fact that she was secured and in handcuffs in the back of the police car."

Melvin Rivera says he was across the street and saw "the defendant officers beating and Macing his family. "The children were screaming in pain from being beaten and Maced. Melvin Rivera observed the officers slam an eight year old child onto the sidewalk."

Rivera says he told defendant police Det. Pedro Perez, "'Please stop, this is just a baby shower, stop beating and Macing my family! These are just children and pregnant women!'"

"Defendant Perez responded, 'Shut the fuck up or you'll get arrested, too.' Melvin Rivera replied, 'But there's no reason for you to arrest me. I'm trying to tell you that the children are in danger, they are being Maced and stomped on by the officers!'

"Perez grabbed Melvin Rivera and arrested him while other officers stomped him to the ground, and kicked him in the head."

Gricel Rivera says police also assaulted and Maced her and her child.

The eight adults and five children seek punitive damages for excessive force, physical and emotional injuries, illegal arrest, violations of civil rights and the Constitution, negligence, and failing to follow their own policies.

Named as defendants are the City of Trenton, Mayor Douglas Palmer, police Dets. Pedro Perez, Noel Santiago, Tara Stefano and S. Johnson, police Officers Miguel Acosta, Daryl Berry, Trenton Police Director Irving Bradley Jr., Sgt. Kolodziej, and a John Doe officer.

They are represented by Anthony Cowell of Hamilton, N.J.

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