When the New Jersey police arrived at a fiery scene following a car chase, and the injured driver, his clothing in flames, ran to them for help, the officers began to kick him and violently dragged him away. A video of this startling instance of police brutality was captured by Asbury Park Press. The New Jersey local newspaper recently received the American Bar Association’s 2019 Silver Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts for its 19-part investigative series, “Protecting the Shield.” The series uncovered $60 million secret hush money settlements and exhaustively documented New Jersey’s fragmented police oversight system.
The lead reporter of the team, Andrew Ford, tells Brian Ross of the Law&Crime Network that “Protecting the Shield” was “made necessary by the shocking incidents that we were covering off of the cops and breaking news. Perhaps the most striking is a Neptune police sergeant who fatally shot his ex-wife in public after a car chase, in front of their 7-year-old daughter.”
“I ended up securing an exclusive interview with him and detailed the numerous warning signs that the authorities had for that killing,” adds Ford. Sergeant Philip Seidle had served in the Neptune Township Police Department for 22 years, prior to being sentenced for murdering his ex-wife, the mother of his children, over an alleged custody battle. Along with Sergeant Seidle’s case, there were plenty of other alarming incidents involving “bad cops” with tragic human consequences that the team at Asbury Park Press revealed in “Protecting the Shield.”
Ford’s team filed a request on an estimated 468 municipal police departments, and found that more than 200 citizens were victims of what they call “rogue cops.” One of the victims included an unarmed man, Tim Harden, who died in police custody. During his final moments, that were caught on tape by Asbury Park Press, Tim warned the Howell officers restraining him, and cried, “Help! Help!” His family subsequently sued and settled for $ 350,000 — a fact the New Jersey town was not pleased to see published, which led them to pass a resolution denouncing Asbury Park Press, although Ford clarifies that the town “did not find errors in what we wrote.”
Yet, Asbury Park Press was far from being discouraged and continued reporting stories with massive impact, including that of an officer killed off-duty in a car crash. “I found out that he was drunk and on drugs at the time…that his department didn’t have a policy for random drug testing. So, we requested drug tests from every department in the state and found more than 100 departments did not have a policy for random drug testing.” After Ford and his team published the story, the state attorney general mandated that all departments conduct drug testing of police officers.
Ford mentions that, “you don’t have to be an investigative reporter to do this kind of work, but investigative reporting is alive and well in New Jersey at the Asbury Park Press and at the other papers in the USA Today Network.” Describing his team’s commitment to dig deeper into systemic issues in order to keep local citizens informed, Ford says, “We are all working together out here and we continue to have follow-up stories so stick with us, and we will keep it going.”
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[Image via Law&Crime Network]