Police Brutality During Arrest: One Perth Amboy Man’s Story

A version of this article was first published by my central jersey.

A city man claims he has spent years in physical therapy and amassed nearly $700,000 in medical bills because he was “brutalized and beaten” during an arrest by Perth Amboy police officers.

Jaime Rodriguez, 43, has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Perth Amboy, its police department, Chief Roman McKeon, Officer Jonathan Coronado Castillo, Officer Enmanuel Pena-Sanchez, Officer Davis Salazar, and Officer Rafael Bengochea. 

The lawsuit was filed in May 2017 by Edison-based attorney Jarred S. Freeman. His lawsuit alleges eight counts, including false arrest, emotional distress, loss of future work and violation of the Federal Civil Rights Act.

According to Freeman, the lawsuit originally sought $1.8 million, but if it heads to trial, they will likely seek upwards of $5 million.

He said the recent news of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police has been especially difficult for Rodriguez.

“He hasn’t really even been able to watch the Floyd video because it brings him back to that point,” Freeman said. “The monetary award is one thing, but it’s a shame he can’t feel safe in his own town because of these officers.”

The lawsuit alleges that the incident “was perpetrated in conjunction with a longstanding and pervasive pattern of improper and excessive force utilized by employees of the Perth Amboy Police Department.”

The lawsuit says that Rodriguez will present evidence of “many instances wherein the Perth Amboy Police Department … has allowed, condoned, encouraged and otherwise engaged in wrongful excessive and unreasonable force.”

The Alleged Altercation

On May 2, 2016, Rodriguez was in a group near 179 Fayette St. when Officers Castillo and Pena-Sanchez approached the group and instructed them to lower their voices and disperse, according to the lawsuit. They noticed Rodriguez and suspected he had an active warrant out of Perth Amboy.

Rodriguez was smoking a cigarette and was leaving “when he was attacked by Officer Castillo,” according to the lawsuit. At no point was Rodriguez “aware that he was under arrest or that the Officers were looking to specifically speak with him.”

Castillo then forced Rodriquez to the ground with “great force and continued to hit him while he was subdued on the ground,” the lawsuit says.

As a result of the encounter, Rodriguez underwent spinal fusion surgery, according to court documents. He has since been receiving physical therapy and treatment for mental trauma resulting in nearly $700,000 in medical bills, according to court documents.

Other Alleged Run-Ins

Rodriguez has had other run-ins with the Perth Amboy Police Department that he has reported to internal affairs.

Officer Bengochea has “targeted” Rodriguez and harassed him multiple times, resulting in at least three separate complaints to Perth Amboy Internal Affairs, according to the lawsuit.

In one instance, Bengochea, along with Salazar were, “for reasons unknown,” in the area around Rodriguez’s home while he was on the phone and taking out the garbage.

The two officers then jumped his fence and broke it down claiming that Rodriguez “was throwing out a suitcase” and continued harassing him, according to the lawsuit. “Why this allegation of throwing out a suitcase warranted such actions has yet to be explained,” the lawsuit says.    

They took turns patting down Rodriguez, who was wearing swimming trunks and a tank top. The officers then patted Rodriguez down and “squeezed” his testicles, he testified. Rodriguez was then detained, according to his deposition.

On another occasion, Rodriguez went for a walk around his neighborhood when he noticed a police vehicle U-turn and start to “slowly follow him.”