Paterson, NJ cops suspended without pay as man remains missing 9 months later
PATERSON — Two police officers, who are two of the last known people to have seen Felix DeJesus, has been suspended without pay for violating procedures the night of his disappearance.
Jacob Feliciano and Dodi Zorilla were suspended for 90 days following an Internal Affairs investigation, according to findings sheets obtained by New Jersey 101.5. It found the Paterson cops violated ten regulations in their arrest of DeJesus on Feb. 2. The 41-year-old Haledon man was reported missing the next day.
The officers flouted policies pertaining to body cameras, transporting citizens, patrol procedures, and preparing police reports.
Jeff Patti, the attorney for DeJesus' family, told New Jersey 101.5 that "the family is redoubling its efforts to find Felix."
"We are fighting for the release of all IA materials and are continuing our own search and investigation," Patti said.
The attorney also told the Paterson Press that the family had "mixed feelings" about the result of the investigation. While they were satisfied that there was some discipline, they saw the suspensions as an "obvious outcome."
"Beyond that, the family believed the penalties were not severe enough. If not for their violations of these procedures, we would have Felix with us today."
In a statement, Mayor Andre Sayegh said that the review also found that the officers "are not responsible for the apparent disappearance of Mr. DeJesus."
"A retired judge ruled that a three-month, non-paid suspension was appropriate," Sayegh said. "While less than the penalty sought by the city, the city respects the judge's decision."
Paterson cop to appeal suspension
An attorney for Zorilla, Pat Caserta, told the Paterson Press that they would likely file an appeal. Caserta argued that his client was training on the job under Feliciano's direction and questioned why the trainee would receive the same penalty as the trainer.
New Jersey 101.5 was unable to find attorney information for Feliciano on Thursday.
What happened to Felix DeJesus?
It's been nine months since DeJesus was first reported missing on Feb. 3, yet there have not been any major breaks in the investigation to find him.
Body camera footage of his encounter with police shows that he was arrested at a bodega on Union Avenue. A woman told Feliciano and Zorilla that DeJesus had grabbed her on her way into the shop but she declined to file a formal complaint.
DeJesus, who was visibly intoxicated, was handcuffed on the ground and placed into the backseat of a police vehicle. Family members were reportedly told that he was then dropped off about a mile away at Westside Park.
"Mr. DeJesus was driven not home, not to the hospital or a shelter, but a good distance away and dropped off near the Kennedy High School near the Passaic River near a known higher crime and drug activity area," Patti wrote to the Attorney General's Office. "It was below freezing and he was wearing only jeans and a t-shirt."
That's where DeJesus was last seen, according to Haledon police. He was left with five strangers "congregating" in the area.
Patti revealed to the Paterson Press on Tuesday that one of the five people had "lawyered up" and wouldn't talk to police.
Reward for Felix DeJesus
Authorities have announced a $15,000 reward for information leading to DeJesus. Haledon police offered a $5,000 reward in August which then increased in late September when the Paterson police offered an additional $10,000.
“We’re grateful for whatever we can get,” DeJesus' sister-in-law Crystal Garcia said in August regarding the reward to NorthJersey.com.
Rick Rickman is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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