NJ police officer charged after alleged assault of hospital patient

A New Jersey police officer is out on bond after accusations of conspiring to cover up the assault of a hospital patient, a spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office in New Jersey said Thursday.

Roger Then, 29, a City of Paterson police officer, was charged Wednesday with conspiring to violate an individual’s civil rights and with misprision of felony for concealing that civil rights violation, the US attorney’s office said.

Then made an initial court appearance Wednesday and was released on $150,000 bond, said Will Skaggs, a spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office.

The incident happened March 5 when a Paterson resident, referred to in court documents only as “the victim,” called for help following a suicide attempt.

Then and a fellow officer, called simply “Officer 1” in court documents, were dispatched to the victim’s address, where the Paterson Fire Department was already treating him, and had identified him as an “emotionally disturbed person,” according to court documents. The man was taken to St. Joseph’s Medical Center, where the officers met up with the patient.

In their police report, Then and the other officer said the man “became combative and began (to) throw medical glove boxes at the staff.” The report, which CNN could not obtain independently, but is characterized in the complaint, says they and hospital staff restrained the victim, who was taken to a bed for a psychiatric evaluation.

In two video recordings described in the criminal complaint, however — one from hospital surveillance cameras, and one taken by Officer Then — prosecutors say that Then and the other officer punched, struck, and pushed the victim to the ground.

Prosecutors say the officers’ report omitted the alleged assault.

Initial calls to Then’s attorney, a public defender, were not immediately returned. Officials have not released the name of the other officer mentioned in the complaint.

Two videos

The surveillance video shows events in the emergency room waiting area. It shows the victim in a wheelchair apparently throwing an object down the hallway while Officer 1 was standing by the admissions desk, according to the complaint.

“Police Officer 1 appeared to be angry, ran towards the victim, and cocked his right arm as though he was going to punch the victim,” the complaint says.

The officer then pushed the wheelchair with his hands, according to the court document, and proceeded to “punch the victim in the victim’s face.” As the victim was still in the wheelchair and falling towards the ground, Officer Then grabbed him by the back of his neck and pushed him to the ground, the complaint says.

The second video was allegedly taken by Then on his cell phone and shows events inside the patient’s room, as the victim lies on a hospital bed and speaks to Officer 1.

Officer Then appears to turn the camera toward himself and has “a large smile across his face,” the complaint says. He turns the camera back to the patient, who calls Officer 1 an expletive, to which the officer responds, “I’m a what?” according to the complaint.

“The victim said, ‘Do it.’ Police Officer 1 put on a pair of hospital gloves and proceeded to violently strike the victim twice across the face,” the complaint says, adding that the victim covered his face with his hands and was silent.

Because of the officers’ actions, the patient suffered multiple injuries to his face, including an eye injury that required surgery, the court document says.

Police report

The officers’ police report notes that medical staff advised them the victim “has a history of psychiatric issues.”

But the report did not include any mention of physical altercations with the victim, the US Attorney’s Office said, and the officers concealed the video recorded on Then’s cell phone from law enforcement authorities, the complaint said.

Federal agents arrested Then on Wednesday, the US Attorney’s Office said.

The count of conspiracy to violate civil rights carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The misprision of felony count carries a maximum potential penalty of three years in prison. Both counts are also punishable by a fine of up to $250,000.

The criminal complaint made no mention of any charges against Officer 1, and the US Attorney’s Office will not comment beyond the contents of the complaint. The complaint said only that as of April, Officer 1 was no longer on active duty with the Paterson Police Department.

Paterson Police Department Director Jerry Speziale declined to comment on Officer 1, citing an ongoing investigation initiated by the Paterson Police Department.

The police department is working in conjunction with the FBI and the county prosecutor’s office, he said, adding that Then’s actions are not “indicative of the other 418 members of Paterson’s finest that serve with professionalism, respect and integrity.”