A group of Paterson police officers repeatedly punched and kicked a handcuffed, nearly unconscious suspect during a 2011 arrest, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court last week.
Captured on a surveillance video, the beating goes on for more than three minutes. The video shows officers surrounding 30-year-old Alexis Aponte and repeatedly kicking him while he’s restrained on a Paterson sidewalk.
One officer on the video takes a running start and drives his foot into Aponte’s ribs.
Out of the camera’s view, 32-year-old Miguel Rivera was knocked unconscious before he was handcuffed, similarly beaten and robbed by the officers, according to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Aponte and Rivera. The suit, which names the city, the police department and nine officers, is seeking an undisclosed amount of money in damages.
Paterson’s business administrator, Charles Thomas, called the video "extremely disturbing" and declined further comment.
Requests for comment from city police officials and the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office were not returned. Mayor Jeffery Jones was out of town and unavailable for comment, Thomas said.
The arrest followed a confrontation at a Paterson sports bar between Aponte, Rivera and off-duty police officer Jose Torres, according to a police report. Torres contends Aponte shot at him, a claim denied by Darren Del Sardo, the lawyer representing Aponte and Rivera.
Aponte and Rivera were eventually charged with aggravated assault and weapons offenses, criminal records show, and they pleaded guilty to lesser crimes. They were not charged with shooting at Torres.
The incident began about 2:30 a.m. on Sept. 3, 2011, at Augie’s Sports Bar in Paterson. Aponte and Rivera were involved in a fight with several bar patrons and a bouncer, according to the police report.
According to the report, Torres, who was not working for the sports bar, said he approached the men and identified himself as a police officer before physically removing Aponte from the bar.
Outside, Rivera allegedly threatened Torres, the report said. "You don’t know what you got yourself into, you’re (expletive) dead," Rivera said, according to the report.
The police report says Aponte fired a shot at Torres. But Matthew DiBrino, an attorney who represented Rivera on the criminal charges, said surveillance footage disproves Torres’ claim.
"The allegation that they shot at an officer is just simply untrue," said DiBrino.
However, one of the men may have pointed a gun at the bouncer before leaving, Del Sardo said. In an interview with police, Rivera acknowledged Aponte had a "silver handgun" and that he pointed the weapon toward the bar. However, Rivera did not say Aponte fired the weapon, according to the report.
After the bar fight, according to the report, Torres called police, who dispatched several officers to Kearney Street, where Aponte’s family lived.
Miguel Rivera displays the injuries he suffered during his arrest by Paterson Police in 2011.
Courtesy of Darrel Del Sardo
At the start of the video, officers surround Rivera’s vehicle with guns drawn. Two uniformed officers approach the passenger door with weapons trained on Aponte before an unidentified man in a white T-shirt pulls Aponte out of the car and hurls him to the sidewalk.
Aponte was handcuffed shortly after he was thrown to the ground, according to the lawsuit, which also claims both men complied with the officers’ orders.
The video shows two uniformed officers repeatedly kicking and stomping Aponte. One officer holds him down while another runs down the street and kicks him in the ribs.
"Officers that are coming to the scene and have no idea what’s going on are just running up and taking their free shots at him," Del Sardo said.
Two minutes later, an officer grabs Aponte by the ankle and drags him down the sidewalk while his hands appear pinned behind his back, the video shows.
Del Sardo said Aponte was robbed of roughly $900 and several pieces of jewelry. Rivera was knocked out as soon as the incident began and was also robbed, DiBrino said.
In the report, police said that they seized a handgun from the car and that Aponte and Rivera were resisting arrest.
Del Sardo argues the video clearly shows both men were defenseless.
"This was revenge," he said. "An act of street justice."
Rivera suffered a fractured orbital bone and a concussion, Del Sardo said. Aponte suffered bruised ribs and multiple lacerations.
Aponte remains in prison, serving up to four years on the weapons charge, while Rivera is free and on probation.
While the incident happened nearly two years ago, Del Sardo said his clients waited to bring a complaint against the officers for fear it would affect their criminal case.
Many of the officers named in the suit are veteran officers with 10 to 18 years’ experience, records show. In addition to Torres, detectives Spencer Finch, Robert Orozco, Alex Cruz and Gray Robert Mercado are named in the suit, as are superior officers Lt. Ronald Humphrey and sergeants Donato Deangelis, Edwin Rodriguez and Bert Ribeiro.
Alexander Shalom, policy counsel for the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he has received dozens of complaints alleging Paterson police officers were involved in acts of violence since 2010, a stark increase from previous years.
But he said the video of Aponte and Rivera’s arrest was particularly disturbing.
"The violence here was quite stark," Shalom said. "It’s certainly not unheard of in either New Jersey or nationwide, but this was particularly difficult to watch because of the sheer amount of force used and the defenselessness of the suspect."
Clearly he was still resisting while he was handcuffed. What other response did these professional officers have than to beat him? If only he would stop resisting they could beat him quickly and be done with it. But no, he resists, so the beating has to go on far longer than it should have. When will you citizens learn to take your beating and like it?