Hearing will determine if SO officer will be removed for use of force

Above is a still from the video, which shows the arrested man being held in place while a police officer punches him in the head.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — South Orange officials last week released the video of an incident in which a South Orange Police Department officer used force. The unidentified officer, who has been suspended since the Jan. 22 incident, is now awaiting the results of a hearing to determine his possible removal.

The SOPD became aware of the use of force later the same day when, as part of its standard protocol and procedures, SOPD personnel reviewed the incident video. According to village officials, the force was used during the arrest of a man who had allegedly been involved in a robbery in the vicinity of the South Orange Train Station on Sloan Street just after midnight.

The News-Record has submitted an Open Public Records Act request for more information and is awaiting further documents.

The video shows an occluded image of the accused, who appears to be resisting being placed into the back seat of the police vehicle, at approximately the seven-minute mark. Approximately three minutes later, a voice off camera is heard saying that the accused is resisting arrest. The accused is then pushed into the car and held in place by an officer’s hand on his head and neck area; at this time, the accused is using profanity to tell the officer that he slept with the officer’s wife. Less than a minute later, an officer’s arm reaches into the car and punches the accused five times in the head.

Upon SOPD personnel reviewing the video on Jan. 22, it was determined that the force utilized by the officer may have been in violation of SOPD policies, rules and New Jersey attorney general guidelines pertaining to use of force and its appropriateness. Subsequently, the officer was immediately suspended pending an investigation, which was referred to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Professional Standards Bureau. The bureau ultimately determined that criminal charges would not be sought against the officer and referred the matter back to the SOPD for an internal affairs investigation with respect to administrative charges.

As of May 20, the SOPD Internal Affairs Bureau has completed its review, and the officer was issued a preliminary notice of disciplinary action seeking the officer’s removal. Pending the outcome of a hearing, the officer will remain suspended.

“The SOPD takes all use-of-force incidents seriously and has a zero-tolerance policy toward any violation. The department reviews every use-of-force incident for compliance and mandates semiannual training and policy review to ensure its officers are best equipped to handle these situations appropriately,” a South Orange press release read. “The South Orange Village president and Board of Trustees remain committed to transparency and accountability.”