No charges for Wildwood cop seen punching woman on beach
WILDWOOD — The officers involved in a Memorial Day weekend arrest of a woman who was punched in the head by one of the cops will not be charged with a crime.
Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey H. Sutherland said Tuesday that his office reached that decision after watching police bodycam video and video taken by a bystander and interviewing witnesses.
"As county prosecutor, I recognize that the video footage has raised a lot of questions regarding the officers' actions," Sutherland said. "A decision such as this is not based on emotions; it is based upon applying the proper laws, policies and directives that govern law enforcement."
The officers, however, are not entirely off the hook as they could face disciplinary actions by the department. The municipality's mayor, however, has come out in defense of his officers.
Videos of the May 26 arrest of Emily Weinman became world news and sparked debates about whether police overreacted or whether Weinman acted appropriately.
The first video the public saw was taken by a beachgoer. It shows an officer punching Weinman at least twice in the head. Days later, police released three video clips from the officer's bodycam.
Police had approached Weinman about possible underage drinking on the beach but she passed two breathalyzer tests administered on the spot.
The encounter, however, continued to escalate with Weinman refusing to provide officers with her name, according to the bodycam video.
The bodycam video shows Weinman walking away from the officers, with one warning her that she is "about to get dropped."
Body cam footage shows Weinman using profanity against officers and she then appears to shove the approaching officer in the chest, which police said caused the officer's bodycam to turn off.
When the camera comes back on, Weinman is on the ground screaming, saying that she can't breathe. Before he handcuffs her, the bodycam video shows the officer's fist rising and falling several times. Weinman then is seen spitting toward the officers.
After releasing the bodycam video, police said that officers were about to let Weinman go without a ticket by asking her to pour out the alcohol, which Weinman claimed belonged to her aunt. The officers, however, then decided to arrest her.
She was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, aggravated assault by spitting bodily fluids at/on a police officer, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, obstruction and minor in possession of alcohol.
Weinman's defenders have said police escalated the situation by asking for her name after the breathalyzer showed she had not been drinking, that what appears to be her shoving is actually her hands going up in a defensive position, and that she was spitting sand after having her face in the ground.
While there were three officers on the scene, Wildwood only has publicly released bodycam video from one of the officers. New Jersey 101.5 has requested copies of all videos from the scene under the state's Open Public Records Act.
While the prosecutor's office has completed its investigation, Sutherland said the Wildwood Police Department is conducing an internal affairs investigation, which is being monitored by the prosecutors office's professional standards unit.
"Members of the public should understand that no matter what your opinion is regarding the subject event, it is not based on a full review of the evidence," Sutherland said. "Ms. Weinman and her attorney are entitled to due process and they have not yet received the information that they will be entitled to as part of the legal process."
Weinman's attorney, Stephen Dicht, told New Jersey 101.5 on Tuesday that he was "not surprised" that the prosecutor decided not to charge the officers, "although I should be," he said.
"If justice was blind I think the officers would have been charged," he said. "You've got two, possibly three participants in that struggle. Well, it wasn't really much a struggle, it was more one-sided. One person's getting their head beaten and she's charged with aggravated assault, but the person who's inflicting the beating is not."
Dicht said since the incident Weinman is doing "as well as can be expected," but that they were "disappointed" by the decision. As for what happens next, Dicht said they are prepared to "defend the charges" and believed that "we're going to prevail because you can see what happened there."