Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez, of the New Jersey District Court, has ruled that Glassboro police did not violate the civil rights of Altaif Hassan and Giovanna Roberson when they held the pair at gunpoint in October of 2018. The judge has also ruled that the small group of officers did not use excessive force, and acted reasonably given the information they had.
The incident occurred after a bystander reported an armed carjacking of a black Dodge Charger, at a nearby shopping center. Officers followed the vehicle, lost sight of it, and were informed of a vehicle matching that description on Rowan University’s campus. Body camera footage shows the incident happening specifically at the parking lot adjacent to the recreation center.
This footage also shows a conversation between an officer and a detained Roberson, which reveals that the bystander who reported Hassan pointing a gun at a vehicle may have mistaken the item for Hassan’s glasses. Roberson points out that when he left the store after picking up his eyeglasses, he did not point any object at her or the vehicle.
Viral video of the ordeal shows several bystanders nearby, highlighting the potential danger of the situation.
Upon encountering the students, five officers immediately drew their guns and commanded them to exit the vehicle with their hands up. They complied, were handcuffed, and quickly released after about a half-hour in custody. The pair were issued no criminal charges afterward, and a search of their vehicle revealed no illegal items, firearms or otherwise.
Hassan and Roberson quickly filed several lawsuits against the officers involved, the Glassboro Police Department Chief, and the department itself. The suits alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment and the NJ Civil Rights Act and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The fourth allegation of negligent hiring and training was dismissed upon agreement of all parties, leaving the rest up for the judge to decide. Rodriguez himself admitted that the officers “mistakenly subjected plaintiffs to a frightening encounter,” according to NJ.com.
Rodriguez agreed that “hindsight might suggest that a small team of officers was unnecessary to investigate the unarmed plaintiffs,” while asserting that the officers acted within their rights.
The most notable ruling was the wholesale rejection of the notion of the episode being racially motivated, as the plaintiffs alleged. Evidence showed that the car was traveling on the same route as the one the police were following and that the car’s tinted windows made it practically impossible for officers to tell who was inside.
The potentially racialized element came out of an unfortunate coincidence, as Hassan claims he had repeatedly been stopped by police during his time at Rowan, with this being the most dramatic in a string of encounters.
It is unclear whether an appeal of this ruling is planned at this time.
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