Counties deny mistreatment
Thursday, December 1, 2005
By BILL DUHART
Officials from Burlington and Essex counties this week denied any wrongdoing in the case of a Burlington County man who was jailed for seven days on an outdated warrant.
Albert Florence claims he was falsely imprisoned for a week after being stopped on Interstate 295 in Burlington County by a state police trooper. He also contends he was a victim of racial discrimination and profiling.
Florence has filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Camden seeking $2 million in damages.
Florence was arrested March 3 after his car was pulled over for speeding, according to the lawsuit. His wife was driving. No ticket was issued, but Florence was arrested after the officer said he owed the state $1,574 for an overdue traffic violation. The car was registered to him.
He said he was taken to Burlington County Jail, strip searched and held for six days. He was then transferred to Essex County Jail, where he was also strip searched, he said. A judge released him the next day because the fine had been paid in 2003, according to the court complaint.
Florence said he was not given a basic hygiene kit with toothpaste, soap and a towel and was not allowed to bathe during the week he was jailed. He said he observed other prisoners, who were white, being given provisions. Florence is black.
Officials from both counties confirmed that Florence was locked up in their jails for a week, but deny he was mistreated.
“The county is guilty of absolutely no wrongdoing,” said J. Brooks DiDonato, an attorney for Burlington County. “The client was treated fairly and well within his constitutional rights.”
Harry Del Plato, acting Essex County counsel, said Wednesday that he couldn’t comment on ongoing litigation. But he added, “We’re going to defend it.”
An attorney for Florence said her client and his family have been traumatized by the incident. His wife was seven months pregnant at the time of the traffic stop, and his 4-year-old son was in the back seat of the car.
“He shouldn’t have been arrested,” said Susan Chana Lask, a New York-based attorney for Florence. “He shouldn’t have been strip searched twice. He was racially mistreated. If he was a white person, it wouldn’t have gone that far.”
Lask said one phone call to Essex County could have sprung her client. She said he even carried a certified letter from the state noting the fine had been paid, which he got after being stopped previously by police.
Lask said Florence’s BMW car may have led to him being racially profiled.
A state police officer, identified as “John Doe,” was also named as a defendant in the court complaint.
Reach Bill Duhart at (856) 486-2576 or firstname.lastname@example.org