Lawyers Say Cops' Reports Don't Match Beating Video

By Joe Malinconico; Paterson Press | The Record (Bergen County, NJ), December 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

Lawyers Say Cops' Reports Don't Match Beating Video


Joe Malinconico; Paterson Press, The Record (Bergen County, NJ)


PATERSON -- As required by the state, Paterson police officers filed Use of Force reports after they engaged in a fierce video- recorded beating of two handcuffed shooting suspects in September 2011.

But the officers' reports contrast sharply in many ways with video images of the incident captured by two surveillance cameras. For example, none of the reports mentions any force used against one of the suspects, who was knocked unconscious during the incident.

Lawyers representing the men who were beaten -- Alexis Aponte and Miguel Rivera -- say the police officers' reports on the incident were an attempt at "damage control."

The accuracy of those reports takes on added importance in the wake of a decision by the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office, disclosed last week, not to seek criminal charges against the officers. The prosecutor's decision leaves the question of whether the officers will be punished up to city law enforcement officials who can impose administrative penalties.

Lawyers for Aponte and Rivera say that glaring discrepancies between the Use of Force reports and what appears evident on the video raise questions about the way the Paterson Police Department is handling its own inquiry.

Rivera's lawyer, Matthew DiBrino, said police reports that were filed seemed to try to minimize the beatings. "They had no idea what the video was going to catch," said DiBrino. "The bottom line is the video doesn't lie. How many other times did this happen and get buried under the carpet because there was no video to substantiate the claims?"

"It always raises concerns when police don't accurately report incidents involving the use of force," said Aponte's lawyer, Darren Del Sardo. "I don't think it stems from them being sloppy. We're going to go into discovery and try to get at the truth," he said, describing a litigation process in which evidence is reviewed.

Paterson Police Director Glenn Brown declined to comment about the Use of Force reports or any aspect of the incident because it is being investigated by the Police Department's internal affairs unit.

The federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Aponte and Rivera against the city adds to a list of other police abuse cases that already have cost Paterson taxpayers more than $1 million in recent years.

The incident started after midnight on Sept. 3, 2011, with a dispute at Augie's Bar on McBride Avenue. Off-duty city Police Officer Jose Torres intervened and said in his incident report that he was threatened by Aponte and Rivera. In his report, Torres writes he was outside the bar when the two men returned and Aponte fired two gunshots at him. The men fled and police officers followed, catching up with them about a mile away outside the Rivera family's home on Crosby Avenue.

Aponte and Rivera were charged with attempted murder and eventually pleaded guilty to lesser crimes. Aponte is serving a five- year prison sentence on aggravated assault charges for pointing a gun at a person and illegal weapons possession, state corrections records show. Rivera pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree conspiracy charge and was sentenced to probation, DiBrino said.

Under New Jersey law, police officers must file reports every time they use "physical, mechanical, or deadly force" against someone in their custody, the attorney general's guidelines state. Four officers filed such reports in the Paterson incident.

Paterson police also released 27 pages of "offense reports" filed by officers that provide accounts that seem to more closely match what's depicted in the videos, although they too fall short of providing a complete description of the scene captured in video images. …

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