BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The defense attorney for one of the former Bloomfield Police Department officers convicted last week of official misconduct and related charges stemming from a roadside stop, thinks the judge may have a difficult time crafting a fair prison sentence.
Attorney Frank Arleo, in a telephone interview earlier this week, said his client, Sean Courter, had established that a driver was eluding him when he called that information into police headquarters at the beginning of a police chase and arrest. The arrest was made after midnight, June 7, 2012. The driver was later identified as Bloomfield resident Marcus Jeter.
The incident began when Courter and another BPD officer responded to a domestic-violence call from a North Passaic Avenue home. The call had been made by the girlfriend of Jeter. On leaving the property as the police arrived, Jeter was stopped by Courter as he drove down the driveway. After being questioned briefly by Courter, Jeter left the scene and according to his testimony, he was not instructed by Courter to remain.
But Courter then made a call to BPD headquarters informing the dispatcher that he was being eluded. The recording of this was heard during the four-week trial. Courter then followed Jeter and subsequently arrested him on the Garden State Parkway. The arrest was recorded by two police-car dashboard cameras.
A Newark Superior Court jury decided last week, Thursday, Nov. 5, that what was written in police reports of the incident by Courter and another former BPD officer at the scene, Orlando Trinidad, did not represent what was seen in the video. Trinidad was also charged with aggravated assault for striking a handcuffed Jeter.
But in their reports, Courter and Trinidad said Jeter was attempting to remove Courter’s gun from its holster and that he struck Trinidad in the face with a fist. Jeter faced five years in prison from those charges until dashboard camera video evidence surfaced and exonerated him. Both Courter and Trinidad now face a mandatory sentence of five years in prison.
Trinidad had testified that he did not know if Jeter or Courter hit him during
the scuffle. Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Betty Rodriguez told Trinidad he should not have charged Jeter and struck him if he did not really know.
Judge Michael Ravin will sentence the former officers for the remaining charges on Jan. 11, 2016.
Arleo acknowledged that mistakes were made by Courter, Trinidad and Jeter, but his client did call into headquarters that he was being eluded.
“I think the whole case flowed from that,” he said. “You have the right to stop and arrest. After that, it goes bad.”
He said it is impossible to know what the jury was thinking while deliberating.
“If you believe that Jeter took off, shouldn’t that affect the sentencing?” Arleo said. “If Jeter was a completely innocent victim, that is a different story. But the police didn’t know him. They went to help his girlfriend. It’s very troubling. You really give those guys five years?”
According to Kathy Carter, a spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, the mandatory sentence of five years is for the official misconduct charge.
Arleo said without knowing what the jury determined was false, it would be hard for the judge to craft a sentence as to whether “Jeter was completely truthful or if the officers were not completely truthful about the case.”
In an email to The Independent Press, Tracey Hinson, the attorney for Jeter in a civil suit against Courter and Trinidad, said she and her client were relieved with the jury decision.
“The video made it clear that Marcus was the victim of a massive conspiracy and coverup,” Hinson said. “These officers swore to uphold the law but instead chose to use their badge to break the law. It does make you wonder how many more are there like these two? How many get away with this kind of behavior every day when there is no video evidence to contradict their versions.”
Hinson said the conviction was a step in the right direction to weed out the bad officers from the good ones.
“I commend the prosecutors in this case for their excellent presentation of their case to the jury,” she said.