Following a five-week jury trial in Superior Court, Newark, two Bloomfield police officers were convicted Thursday of official misconduct and related charges in connection with a 2012 motor vehicle stop on the Garden State Parkway. Authorities cited evidence from a dashcam video in one of the cops’ patrol cars as leading to the guilty verdicts.
The defendants, Sean Courter, 35, of Englishtown, and Orlando Trinidad, 34, of Bloomfield, had falsely accused a motorist of resisting arrest and going for an officer’s weapon, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray noted.
Both were found guilty of official misconduct, conspiracy to commit official misconduct, tampering with public records, falsifying public records, and false swearing. In addition, Trinidad was convicted of simple assault.
After the jury verdict was announced, bail was immediately revoked by presiding Judge Michael L. Ravin, and Courter and Trinidad were remanded to the Essex County Jail to await sentencing, scheduled for Jan. 11. Each faces a mandatory minimum term of five years in State Prison.
A third Bloomfield officer, Albert Sutterlin, pleaded guilty in October 2013 to falsifying and tampering with records. He resigned from the Police Department.
The events that resulted in the charges against the cops stemmed from the June 7, 2012, arrest of Marcus Jeter of Bloomfield. The Prosecutor’s Office provided the following account of what transpired:
Police were called to Jeter’s home when he and his girlfriend got into a verbal dispute. Jeter voluntarily left the premises, but Courter followed him on to the Parkway and conducted a motor vehicle stop. The officer tried to get Jeter to leave his car, but he refused saying he feared for his life. Courter then called for back-up.
When Trinidad arrived on the scene, he struck the front of Jeter’s car. Courter then broke the window and with help from Trinidad pulled Jeter from the vehicle.
Following the incident, the officers wrote police reports stating that Jeter had attempted to grab Courter’s gun and had struck Trinidad. Based on those reports Jeter was charged with eluding, resisting arrest, aggravated assault and attempting to disarm a police officer.
For nearly a year, prosecutors had only the dashboard video from Courter’s patrol vehicle. Then, through an Open Public Records Act request, Jeter’s lawyer sought the second dash-cam video, from Trinidad’s car, and it clearly showed that Jeter’s hands were up in a surrender position throughout the encounter, authorities said.
Based on that video, the Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the charges against Jeter and opened an investigation into the two officers, which resulted in their being indicted by an Essex County grand jury in January 2014.
Following last week’s verdict, Assistant Prosecutor Berta Rodriguez, who tried the case with Assistant Prosecutor Frantzou Simon, said, “Justice was finally served for Marcus Jeter. These officers give a bad name to all the good, honest, decent police officers.”
“Courter and Trinidad took an oath to uphold the law,” Rodriguez said. “On that day in June of 2012, they violated that oath. They accused Mr. Jeter of criminal acts that led to him being charged and indicted. He was facing five years in prison. But for the dash camera in the second police vehicle, he might be in prison today.’’
– Karen Zautyk