Suspect’s Bashed Head Could Cost N.J. Police

     (CN) – New Jersey police officers must face claims that they used a baton to bash the head and torso of a man who was not resisting arrest after a burglary, a federal judge ruled.
     The city of Paterson has told the court that the incident occurred on March 17, 2010, after Jose Colon drove Carlos Vasquez and Kenny Garcia to steal a laptop from a car parked at the St. Joseph’s Medical Center garage.
     A security officer had seen Colon’s cohorts, and police officers Anthony Castranova, Terrence Duffy and Kelvin Matos responded the burglary report.
     Colon testified that, although he knew the cops were blocking the garage entrance and yelling for him to stop his car, he tried to drive away, striking Duffy’s police car.
     The driver then ran a stop sign and struck another vehicle, sending his own car spinning.
     Once the car stopped, Colon said he ran about 25 feet away, at which point the cops jumped on his back, slammed him into the ground, and handcuffed him “right away.”
     Though Colon then allegedly gave up and stopped resisting arrest, “at least two police officers” hit him with a long, hard metal object, either a night stick or a flash light, on the top and back of his head three or four times while he was lying face-down, he testified.
     The officers also struck Colon multiple times on his ribs, back, and chest while he was lying on the pavement, and then allegedly dragged him face-down to the patrol vehicle, scraping skin off his arm, elbow, knee, and hand.
     Colon testified that he needed 18 staples to close his head wounds, while his entire arm swelled, and his hand remained swollen for a long time and needed physical therapy.
     Castranova admitted that he struck Colon with an expandable an ASP (Armament System and Procedure) baton but denied that Matos hit Colon. Duffy meanwhile said he was apprehending a cohort at the time.
     Colon further said that the incident left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
     His complaint seeks damages against the officers for excessive force, and against the city for a policy, practice, or custom of deliberate indifference to his constitutional rights.
     The defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming qualified immunity.
     U.S. District Judge William Martini denied all but Duffy’s motion Sept. 9, upholding the excessive-force claims against Matos and Castranova.
     “It is unreasonable to strike a handcuffed suspect who is face down and not resisting arrest,” the unpublished ruling states. “Although Colon had been fleeing police and proven he was dangerous prior to the baton strikes, it does not excuse the use of force upon a suspect who had completely given up resistance at the time the police administered the strikes.”
     Colon failed, however, to show that Duffy beat him with a baton, the court ruled.
     “Plaintiff did not see Duffy with his own eyes,” Martini wrote, later adding that it is unclear that “Duffy’s pursuit and capture of Kenny Garcia was so fast as to allow Duffy a realistic and reasonable opportunity to intervene in the baton strikes.”
     In upholding the claims against Paterson, the judge noted that 610 excessive-force complaints have been filed against the city’s 519 police officers over five years.
     “The manufacturer of the ASP informs purchasers that strikes to the head and chest may constitute deadly force,” Martini wrote.
     He later added: “Despite the obvious dangers of using an ASP, the evidence, when construed in the best light for the plaintiff, demonstrates that the [Paterson Police Department] PPD failed to adequately train its officers in the use of an ASP.”

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