Was NJ man arrested for trying to take an iPad to ‘lost and found’?
HOBOKEN — A Bergen County man says he was trying to find the owner of an iPad that he had found left behind at a train station.
But on his way to the lost-and-found, he says police arrested him and charged him with theft.
The device happened to be "bait" left on a bench in an attempt by undercover cops to nab thieves at the Pavonia-Newport station back in 2013.
NJ Transit police acknowledged that they heard Sayeed Al Shehab yelling out "Someone forgot their iPad!" to people at the station, and watched him board a train and ask passengers about the device.
But police arrested him anyway because he hadn't approached nearby uniformed cops or the train conductor to report the lost electronic.
After spending three hours in jail, Al Shehab later scored a couple of legal victories when the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office downgraded his charge and the city prosecutor urged a Municipal Court judge to throw out the case.
Since then, however, he and his wife's civil case against NJ Transit and the police officers has proved unsuccessful.
On Wednesday, an appellate panel ordered a trial judge to dismiss their lawsuit against the remaining two defendants in the case: the two cops who busted him.
The couple had sued for false arrest, unlawful imprisonment, malicious prosecution, negligent hiring and supervision, and violation of the state Civil Rights Act. Al Shehab said he suffered financially because he was fired from his job because of the arrest and it took him four months to find new work.
Officer Toni Cruz and Sgt. Dominic Imperiale argued that they are entitled to qualified immunity from a lawsuit because they believed probable cause existed for the arrest.
The appellate panel on Wednesday agreed with the officers, saying they "acted reasonably" and that police "are not required to believe protestations of innocence."
Al Shehab was commuting from his job in Jersey City to Teaneck by Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. He said he got on the train after shouting about the iPad at the station because he believed he had seen someone beckon him, perhaps to claim the iPad. When he got on the train, the undercover officer saw him ask passengers about the iPad. One passenger suggested that the owner had gotten on a southbound train; another suggested that he take it to the NJ Transit customer service office at Hoboken Terminal.
He got off at the next stop, 2nd Street in Hoboken, where he was stopped by Imperiale. Al Shehab asked, "Is it about the iPad?" Another officer asked, "What about the iPad?" Al Shehab told them what had happened and that he was taking it to customer service. The lost-and-found, however, was not at that station.
Although the charge against him ultimately was dismissed, the appellate decision says that officers had "a well-grounded suspicion" for arresting him.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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