Friday, October 10, 2008

The raw, exonerating power of
the Denville, NJ Police video

For years patrol officers, police unions and department executives in various jurisdictions have resisted dash cams and real-time technology that recorded, them "on the job."

If there's anyone left today who objects to "sergeant big brother" recording their every word and capturing video within view of the patrol vehicle he should watch the compelling video of this June 2008 traffic stop. It ended with Officer Robert Byrne alive and 21-year-old drunk driver (.16 BAC along with cannabinoids in his system) Ruben Martinez sadly dead from cop-saving gunshot wounds, according to the prosecutor.

Morris County, New Jersey Prosecutor Robert A. Bianchi announced yesterday that a special grand jury had declined to lodge any charges against Denville officer Byrne. Bianchi accompanied that announcement with clear and convincing evidence that was evaluated by the grand jurors, i.e. the dash cam from Byrne's patrol vehicle and that of Officer Daniel Fernandez.

Thanks to the wonders of technology we can watch the tape as officers struggle with Martinez to turn off the souped-up Ford Mustang that he had been driving 57 mph in a 25 mph zone, until it spun out.

Byrne tried to wrest the car keys from Martinez and Fernandez tried to help from the driver's side. But Martinez, instead, was able to start the car. Byrne managed to get into the passenger seat before Martinez's car would have crushed him against his own patrol vehicle and the drunk driver took off with Byrne aboard for the harrowing ride.

Martinez shifted gears, accelerating to 75 mph in just seven-and-a-half seconds. When Martinez refused to stop and the vehicle reached 80 mph Byrne had no choice but to fire to save his own life.

Those of us who have been passengers in speeding vehicles, powerless to do anything other than hope that we would not be killed or maimed in a collision can understand Byrne's fear. As a 15-year-old I was a passenger in a1960 Chevrolet convertible driven by a (thankfully) sober 18-year-old neighbor who pushed the car to more than 100 mph on a narrow country road paralleling the Delaware River. Once he stopped I got out, alive and shaking, never to ride with him again. The speed limit was 50.

In this case Martinez reeked of alcohol, may have also been high on marijuana and to Byrne undoubtedly appeared ready and willing to kill them both intentionally.

Reality TV shows with their after-the-fact audio (it's always the same overdubbed high voice allegedly in the 'copter telling you what the fleeing vehicle is doing ) cannot come close to the raw, exonerating power of the Denville Police video.

The Martinez estate/family has filed notice that it will sue the municipality for excessive force, civil rights and negligence.

Let's go to the tape.

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