Police brutality: the cases you don't hear about
On June 2, 1996, Irvington, New Jersey police burst into Marie Antoine's apartment where a birthday party was being held for her brother, Max. The officers, Phillip Rucker, Alfredo Aleman, and Keith Stouch, with no warrant, told everyone "get the fuck out-the party's over!" When the guests wouldn't leave, the police tried ejecting them forcefully, then started a search of the apartment, again without a warrant, without consent, and without probable cause. Max made the near-fatal mistake of telling Marie the theoretical truth that police in the United States can not act like that. He told his sister to take down their badge numbers so they could file a complaint.
The numerous guests who had remained in spite of the police' demands gave the following account: Officer Rucker, about six feet away, pushed his way through them, knocked Marie to the ground, grabbed Max by the neck, and bashed his head into the wall repeatedly. Officer Aleman then hit Max in the back of the head with his nightstick; Officer Stouch stomped on his body (now prone, for obvious reasons, handcuffed, and clearly not offering any immediate danger). The other two continued beating him with their nightsticks; then they dragged him outside the apartment and resumed beating him. When Marie asked why they were beating him, one of them responded "to teach him American law." The three officers then dragged Max down the stairs, picked him up, and shoved him headfirst into the glass-paned storm door, causing him to break the glass with his head. Then they took him outside, threw him in the back of the cruiser, and sprayed him in the face with some inflammatory chemical substance.
At the police station, Max-bleeding profusely and begging for medical help-was beaten again. In response to his request for medical attention, a policeman told Max to "shut up and die like a man." Max reported that the police booked him before calling for medical attention, and that when the medics did finally arrive, they gave him a small bandage for his bleeding and left. The police presented Max papers to sign, but he refused. Then, according to Max, they promised that he would not receive justice. Max also said that one policeman also told him that if he made a complaint, they would send him "back to Haiti, where someone would kill" him there, and that a uniformed detective told him that he had been lucky, because if the detective had been at the apartment, he would have shot Max dead himself. Two days later, Max was released to his family. They took him to St. Barnabas Hospital, where he was placed immediately in intensive care.
Max had a broken jaw and left eye socket, severe and permanent damage to his bowels and bladder, and irreparable damage to his spinal cord. Max has since undergone twenty separate surgeries, including lumbar and spinal implants; he is now paraplegic, deaf in one ear, blind in one eye, impotent, depressed, and suicidal.
The Irvington Police Department has brought charges against Max for resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. Max faces a 13-count indictment; of the thirteen counts, the most serious is that he tried to disarm a police officer-a felony. The other charges include aggravated assault, resisting arrest.
At the time of the beating, Max ran a paralegal service. He had just finished his first year of studies towards a law degree and was in the process of buying a house. Now he has lost his business and lives in a small roach-infested apartment with his wife and two children. He's had to move from Irvington to escape the harassment. His medical bills total well over $650,000. The batteries in his spinal implants have to be replaced every year but he cannot afford the cost. He was to have physical therapy, in hopes of regaining some use of his legs, but again, the cost is insurmountable.
After numerous complaints to the Irvington Police Department, a grand jury was convened. No one was subpoenaed to testify for Max, although several police testified against him, and no charge or disciplinary action was brought against the men responsible-each of whom is reported to have an internal affairs folder "several inches thick" with reports of overly aggressive behavior and other forms of corruption. The Justice Department initially refused to look into the incident, but finally consented two years later.
Max was scheduled to begin his trial on July 26, 1999, a full 3 years after the incident, but after Larosilier pointed out the judge's conflict of interest, the judge recused himself and a new date was set. The criminal trial has since been postponed again because of a scandal involving "irregularities in spending" on the part of the prosecution. A new prosecutor has been assigned to the case, which will have a hearing Monday, October 18th, 1999, at 9:00 a.m. On the 16th, that Saturday, The Justice for Max Antoine Committee has scheduled a demonstration in front of the Essex County Courthouse calling for the charges against Max to be dropped and for the police responsible to be fired. Currently, the three officers are still active, on duty, and without so much as a reprimand.
The committee also hopes to establish an independent board for community control of the police in Irvington. The Police Department has already instituted a "civilian complaint board" since the incident, but residents express cynicism about its effectiveness and impartiality.
When asked about whether he thought this case deserved as much publicity as Abner Louima's, Richard R. Thomas II, Max's civil lawyer, responded "I don't care about the publicity, I just care about my client. What good is publicity if nothing happens because of it?" If the judge does not dismiss the case by October 18th, Max will go to trial on the 19th. Those who can not attend the October 18th demonstration can write the following people demanding that the charges against Max Antoine be dropped:
Special Deputy Attorney General Ford Livinggood
Essex County Prosecutor's Office
50 W. Market Street
Newark NJ 07102
The New Jersey Attorney General:
Office of the Attorney General
Hughes Justice Complex
25 Market Street - PO Box 080
Trenton, NJ 08625-0080
Telephone (609) 292-8740
New Jersey Governor:
Christine Todd Whitman
PO Box 004
Trenton, NJ 08625.
Please include the indictment number 3184-7-97 in all correspondence. The Justice for Max Antoine Committee is accepting donations to help cover Max's legal and medical bills at the following address (checks payable to "The Max Antoine Justice and Defense Fund."):
P.O. Box 330
(201) 487 3748
Fax 201 883 1531
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