A man who was detained and frisked for video recording – then jailed for possession of crack– only for it to be crumbs from a saltine cracker in his pocket, is set to receive a $35,000 settlement from the state of New Jersey.
John Cokos was stopped by Deptford Township Officer Matthew Principato as he was walking to a local college armed with a video camera in November of 2011.
The officer asked him “what his intentions were with the video camera,” to which Cokos, knowing his rights, refused to respond.
Instead, Cokos asked the officer if he was being charged with any offense, and if not, was he free to leave. Principato responded by explaining that the video camera made him “look very suspicious” as there had been break-ins reported in the area. At this point Cokos requested a supervisor come to the scene to have the encounter witnessed.
Once the supervisor, Detective Edward Kiermeier, arrived, both officers began to demand Cokos turn off his video camera.
Cokos refused, informing Kiermeier and Principato that it was within his right to record public employees in a public space.
“I just want to make sure there is nothing on your person that can hurt us,” Kiermeier said before he pushed him against a guard rail and frisked him without his consent.
The cop discovered a small amount of saltine cracker crumbs wrapped up in wax paper.
The officers asked him if the cracker crumbs were crack cocaine. Cokos told him no.
They arrested him anyway, insisting it was crack cocaine. Several more officers arrived on the scene and examined the cracker crumbs, also going along with the crack allegation.
Cokos was then placed in the back of a police vehicle and taken to the police headquarters under arrest.
“Defendants violated the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, among other state claims.” The lawsuit stated.
Once they arrived at the police station, the supervisor came to the holding cell where Cokos was being held and told him that after further investigating, the supposed crack cocaine was, in fact, a piece of saltine cracker, according to the lawsuit.
Despite the department’s absurd error, Cokos was charged with obstructing administration of law/governmental function, a charge he was cleared on in 2012.
The department, usual, is paying the settlement on the condition they don’t have to admit wrong-doing.
But anybody can see they did just that by watching the video below.