Racial-profiling issue resurfaces in Glouco Suit accuses county, Woolwich Township of conspiring to prevent filing of complaint.

Posted: January 14, 2009

More than a dozen years ago, a Superior Court judge in Gloucester County sparked a national debate over racial profiling when he ruled state police troopers were unfairly targeting black and Hispanic motorists on the New Jersey Turnpike.

That finding, by Judge Robert E. Francis, eventually led to the dismissal of charges against nearly 300 motorists who were improperly stopped and searched around the state. The U.S. Department of Justice also began monitoring traffic stops in the state, a role that is continuing.

Now, a prominent civil-rights attorney instrumental in that 1996 case says profiling has resurfaced in Gloucester County.

William H. Buckman, a Moorestown attorney, this week filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Camden alleging the county prosecutor and the Woolwich Township police conspired to prevent his client, Terence Jones of South Harrison, from filing a racial-profiling complaint after he was stopped on a sub-freezing night.

Jones, who is black, wants unspecified damages from Prosecutor Sean Dalton, County Detective Lt. John Porter, former Woolwich police officer Michael Schaeffer, Woolwich Police Chief Russell Marino, the county government, and the township for inflicting "emotional pain and trauma, fear and financial damages" on him.

Jones also wants the court to order the prosecutor and the police department to refrain from racially motivated practices.

The prosecutor's office released the following statement yesterday: "Since we have not seen a complaint, we cannot comment on unknown allegations. Suffice it to say the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office has and will continue to investigate and present matters fairly under the law. We look forward to vigorously presenting law enforcement's position in a courtroom, rather than in any other forum."

Marino said he would have "no comment whatsoever until I can contact my attorney." Schaeffer could not be reached.

Jones, a former Philadelphia police officer, was pulled over on Feb. 4, 2007, around midnight, as he headed home from Philadelphia. He had just hosted a Super Bowl party and dropped one of his guests off at his home in the city.

Schaeffer, who is now with the Mount Ephraim police, stopped Jones on Route 322, peppered him with profanity-laced questions, and said he doubted Jones' story. The patrolman ordered Jones out of the car for a sobriety check and frisked him. He had explained that he became suspicious when Jones was observed exiting an industrial parking lot.

The 20-minute traffic stop was captured by a video camera mounted on Schaeffer's cruiser.

Jones says he had simply turned around in the lot after missing his intersection. He had not been drinking, he said, and did not break any laws.

According to the lawsuit, Jones was not charged with any violation until he wrote a letter to the chief, complaining about Schaeffer's behavior.

Jones was charged with filing false reports; the patrolman who stopped him was not disciplined.

"The English language fails me because all I can keep saying is it's outrageous," Buckman said at Jones' four-day trial last month.

Superior Court Judge M. Christine Allen-Jackson agreed.

Visibly angry, she dismissed the charges of false swearing, a fourth-degree crime, against the 45-year-old Jones.

She also rebuked the county prosecutor's office for improper "handling of this matter" and determined the officer made "an unreasonable stop." The videotape clearly showed there was no probable cause and the search and pat-down were unwarranted, she said.

"To turn [Jones' complaint] into a complaint against Mr. Jones is unbelievable. It's absolutely incredible," Allen-Jackson said, her voice rising.

Jones, a father of three who is on disability from a car accident during his stint as a Philadelphia plainclothes officer, sobbed uncontrollably when the judge issued her verdict.

"I relived the hurt and how my civil rights were violated," Jones said. "How could you look at that video and charge me?"

Jones said he had been frightened and humiliated.

But Assistant Prosecutor Joseph Brook said Jones made up stories and embellished what happened at the traffic stop. For example, Jones reported Schaeffer said he found it hard to believe he did not drink alcohol at the Super Bowl party and ordered him out of his vehicle. The mention of the Super Bowl was not on the videotape, but the rest of the statement was.

The judge called the case "chilling" and said she was concerned that Lt. Porter told the grand jury that nothing in Jones' complaint was true. She also wondered why the prosecutor did not press charges against Schaeffer.

"Obviously we felt we presented an appropriate charge and this time it wasn't decided in our favor," Dalton said last week. "The matter has been concluded and we move forward. There will be no charges arising against the Woolwich officer because the matter was reviewed thoroughly."

But Buckman says the prosecutor charged Jones to quiet him.

In April 2006, Jones had complained that a Salem County man had tailgated him and then pulled up next to his BMW and shouted a racial epithet about how a black man shouldn't drive an expensive car.

Jones wrote down the man's license number, and James J. Trexler, of Pittsgrove, was arrested. Jones said Trexler also pointed a gun at him during the incident.

A few weeks later, Jones reported that three men in white hoods got out of a car parked near his house and warned him to drop the charges. Trexler has a conviction for burning a cross in front of the home of another black man in an unrelated case. He is awaiting trial in the Jones matter.

Buckman wants Dalton to recuse his office from handling this case.

"Victims of crime have a constitutional right to effective prosecution," Buckman wrote in a Jan. 9 letter to Dalton. He said the prosecutor's action against Jones created a conflict of interest.

Dalton said yesterday that Jones' lawsuit would create the conflict and the matter would "likely be referred to another county."

Jones' acquittal came just a few weeks before Charles Tyson, who was the mayor of his town, stepped down.

Tyson, who is black, said he didn't want to put his family through any more racially motivated death threats or vandalism. Soon after he was elected mayor of South Harrison, in January 2007, Tyson received a dozen racist phone calls and e-mails. Months later, his campaign lawn sign was defaced with "KKK."

No arrests were made, and now Buckman wants Dalton to step aside and let "an independent agency" like the state or the FBI take the lead in the Tyson investigation. Buckman is representing Tyson, too.

"I see no evidence any of this stuff was adequately investigated," said Buckman. In his letter to Dalton, he said "the Prosecutor's Office appears to have a de facto policy of less than effective prosecution for race-related hate crimes in Gloucester County."

Dalton's written response was: "The Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office has and will continue to investigate any bias allegations involving Mayor Tyson until the persons responsible are held accountable under the law."

But Buckman believes the charges filed against Jones show the prosecutor would rather "shut up complainers" than stop racially motivated incidents.

The lawyer said he was struck by the "cosmic irony" that he was back in Gloucester fighting racial acts 13 years after the late Judge Francis's ruling.

"Here in Gloucester County, this whole debacle of racial profiling began," he said.

Contact staff writer Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com.

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