NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - A sixth police officer in New Jersey’s third-largest city faces criminal charges in connection with a federal probe that has painted a grim picture of illegal searches, drug dealing, thefts from drug suspects and assaults.
Paterson Police Officer Daniel Pent was arrested Tuesday at police headquarters by FBI agents on a complaint charging him with conspiring to deprive individuals of civil rights under color of law. He made an initial appearance in federal court, where his attorney called the 32-year-old “a hero police officer, a very dedicated police officer” who once took down an armed man in an alleyway.
“Now it’s our turn to do an investigation into these charges,” attorney Michael Calabro said.
Paterson Director of Public Safety Jerry Speziale said Tuesday his department has cooperated with investigators during the probe.
“This is a collaboration we relish,” he said. “We will never allow or accept any type of corruption. This is not reflective of the 418 men and women who serve with pride and dignity.”
Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh has called for an outside audit of the police department.
The allegations are similar to ones leveled several years ago against the police department in Newark, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) south of Paterson. Those resulted in a Department of Justice investigation that led to a consent decree and federal monitoring of the department that is in its third year.
Speziale defended his department’s handling of the investigation.
“This is a situation where the Paterson Police Department recognized a problem, identified a problem and worked with the federal authorities to root out corruption,” he said.
According to a criminal complaint, Pent and fellow officer Eudy Ramos illegally stopped individuals and vehicles in Paterson and stole money from the people they stopped. In one instance in February 2017, the two officers allegedly took $10,000 from a suspected drug dealer and Pent later filed a report saying the man had $36 in his possession.
Ramos was indicted last week. Through his attorney, he has maintained his innocence.
Two other officers have been charged with similar shakedowns. Former officer Jonathan Bustios pleaded guilty in December to one civil rights count and one extortion count. While Matthew Torres, also charged in December, allegedly told FBI agents that he and Ramos engaged in criminal conduct routinely, according to a criminal complaint.
Torres’ attorney didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.
Two other officers were charged with separate crimes. Last June, Ruben McAusland admitted dealing drugs - including some he stole from a crime scene while on duty - and taking part in the unrelated assault of a hospital patient.
Federal prosecutors say McAusland distributed heroin, crack cocaine, powder cocaine and marijuana on multiple occasions to someone who was cooperating with law enforcement.
Fellow officer Roger Then pleaded guilty in December to concealing knowledge of a felony from authorities in connection with the assault of the patient.
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