‘Cuffed man hit, dragged, choked in Elizabeth cops’ custody — attorney
ELIZABETH — A video released appears to show a man being beaten and dragged while handcuffed and in police custody as several officers standby — and one officer involved has been indicted in the case.
Meanwhile, all charges have been dropped against Raul Tornes for the altercation that put him in police custody in the first place.
The incident is depicted on a video edited and annotated by attorney Josh McMahon provided. The Union County Prosecutor's Office, which confirmed Officer Edward Shields was indicted Friday on a simple assault charge, declined to provide a full and unedited copy on a verbal request, as did McMahon. The criminal complaint against Shields says he "did recklessly cause bodily injury to Raul Tornes."
According to McMahon, Tornes was taken into custody last September after a disagreement with his girlfriend. The video shows police pushing him into lockers in police headquarters and shows one of the officers, identified in the video as Shields punching him.
Officers can also be seen appearing to hit Tornes with their knees while he is on the ground. Another officer can be seen pulling a gun out of a holster at one point during the incident.
All throughout, Tornes and the officers are yelling. Tornes insists, frantically: "I'm not resisting. I'm not resisting. I'm not resisting. What the f*ck?" He tells officers he can't breathe and has problems with his shoulder.
An officer tells him "Shut the f*ck up" as Tornes screams "I have problems."
As officers tell Tornes to walk where they tell him to go, he yells, "Stop f*cking hitting me"
McMahon's video says a body camera by a female officer present hasn't been released. The video notations identify her as Shields' wife.
It shows officers seeming to drag Tornes past available cells, but not putting him inside. None of the officers present seem to intervene.
The video seems to show officers shoving Tornes into lockers. McMahon alleges in his notations Shields hit Tornes, still handcuffed, with a closed fist.
"Sit the f*ck down. I'll do it again. Sit the f*ck down" one of the officers says. "I will f*ck your sh*t up. Sit the f*ck down." Tornes wails through the encounter
The video ends with Tornes asking to have his attorney called, and an officer replies "f**k your attorney you f*gg*t f*ck."
Portions of the video include no audio. McMahon told New Jersey 101.5 he believed not all of the body cameras recorded audio, but without access to raw footage, New Jersey 101.5 has not yet been able to confirm that.
The video notations also allege Shields is the subject of dozens of use of force reports involving minorities. The prosecutor's office said it would only comment to confirm the indictment. New Jersey 101.5 is submitting a public records request to review any such records.
The video claims Shields is being investigated for a 2017 incident in which he allegedly used racial epitaphs against and assaulted an underage black girl. The prosecutor's office said it did not have information about that incident, and McMahon declined to provide any statement on how he was aware of any such investigation.
As a result of the incident, Tornes suffered a concussion, as well as post-concussion symptoms among other injuries, McMahon said. He said he and Tornes are currently considering further legal action against Shields and the Elizabeth department.
City spokesperson Ruby Contreras confirmed to New Jersey 101.5 that Shields has been suspended without pay since he was charged on Friday.
McMahon said that while he is glad Shields is facing charges, he is unsure of why it took so long for the charges to come. He said he was told as of the beginning of October last year that the Union County Prosecutor's Office had all the videos of the incident, and not long after learned that his client had been cleared of committing any crimes.
He said during that time, Shields was allowed to continue to serve.
NJ.com cited prosecutor's office spokesman Mark Spivey saying an earlier grand jury was presented with the case in April, but no charges were brought.
Also puzzling for McMahon is why none of the other officers involved have been charged or disciplined, including officers "sitting there watching a cop beat somebody and hurl homophobic epithets at him," he said.
"He's clearly clearly attempting to cause significant injury," McMahon said of the incident. "I don't think we want him on the streets."
"This is someone who clearly has issues being violent and hurling epithets," McMahon also said of Shields.
McMahon said he and his client are weighing what their next steps will be, but said he believes "a civil action will likely be filed in the next few months."
According to the criminal complaint against Shields he is scheduled for an initial court date of Sept. 7 at Elizabeth Municipal Court.
New Jersey 101.5 did not know as of Monday night whether Shields had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.