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Man says his race led to a week in jail
Albert Florence said it was seven days of “living hell.”
Florence, who lives in Middlesex County, has filed a federal lawsuit claiming he was stopped by a state trooper and then held for seven days in jail on an old traffic warrant because he is an African-American.
“I had seven days of living hell, arrested in front of my pregnant wife and 4-year-old son on a warrant that never existed, then refused any communication, a shower and humiliated by strip searches,” Florence said in a statement. “Racial profiling still exists in the police force and the government agencies.”
The State Police had admitted to racial profiling following a 1998 shooting on the New Jersey Turnpike and agreed to court-ordered oversight by federal monitors, who have given them glowing reviews.
According to this suit filed in U.S. District Court in Camden, Florence’s pregnant wife was driving him and his 4-year-old son on Route 295 in Burlington County last March when a state trooper stopped their BMW sport utility vehicle for speeding.
The trooper checked the vehicle’s registration, which was in Florence’s name, and found he was wanted on an Essex County warrant, the suit said. Florence tried to show the trooper an official letter stating the warrant had been satisfied, but the trooper arrested him anyway.
Florence and his attorney, Susan Lask, claim race was the motivating factor behind the stop and say Florence’s wife never got a ticket. Lask also says the trooper should have taken the letter as proof that no warrant existed.
State Police spokesman Stephen Jones said the vehicle was stopped for going in excess of 80 mph and the trooper triple-checked the warrant to make sure it was active.
“We did everything by the book,” Jones said. “It was a lawful arrest.”
The trooper took Florence to the Burlington County jail, where he was subjected to a strip- and cavity search, the suit notes. During that time, the suit added, the jail denied him access to a telephone or shower because he was a “holdover.”
After six days, Florence was transported to the Essex County jail and again given a strip- and cavity search, then fingerprinted, photographed and put in the general population, the suit contends.
His wife, meanwhile, was frantically trying to get Burlington and Essex jail officials to realize the warrant had been satisfied, the suit said. It was only after she hired an attorney that a Superior Court judge dismissed the charges based on the fact that the warrant was not active.
“All they had to do is make one phone call,” Lask said yesterday following a news conference in Newark about the lawsuit. “They try and say it’s a mistake, but not seven days.”
The lawsuit claims Florence was unlawfully arrested and falsely imprisoned. It also accuses Essex and Burlington jail officials of discrimination and violating Florence’s constitutional rights by conducting a strip and cavity search.
Harry Del Plato, the Essex County counsel, said it was the county’s policy not to comment on pending litigation, adding: “We’re going to vigorously defend ourselves.” Burlington officials did not return calls seeking comment.