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Lakewood Police Department officers accused of tackling to the ground a black man accused of stalking a Jewish man while carrying a knife just got off the hook of a major federal lawsuit, FAA News has learned.

As previously reported here on FAA News, back in December 2021, Lakewood resident Courtney Griffin filed suit in New Jersey Superior Court in Ocean County charging that he was "deprived of his civil rights when officers pursued, detained, surrounded and fought with him in the street on the night of December 18th, 2019."

The suit specifically names Officers John Novak, Alex Pedre, Joseph Prebish, Sherry Jones, Christopher Dibiase, William Allen, Joseph Przewoznik, and Cameron Rose.

According to the Complaint:

At the time of the incident, Mr. Griffin worked at Alpha Engineering, at 651 New Hampshire Avenue. He usually got a ride home at the end of his shift. One night, he worked overtime and walked home alone. It was very cold that evening, he had only a thin jacket, and he began to walk home in the cold.

Unbeknownst to Mr. Griffin, a 911 operator took a call about a “black man” stalking a “Jewish man” and brandishing a knife at about the time of Mr. Griffin’s exit from Alpha Engineering. Police drove up rapidly on Mr. Griffin, frightening him and yelling at him. As he spoke with the first officer on scene, many other police cars and officers came at him. The police officers blocked off the street because there were so many cars reporting to this particular scene. An officer began yelling at Courtney that he had a knife and she needed to speak with him.

Courtney denied having a knife. He told the officer he had just left his work and had a box cutter. Many other police officers entered the area and began surrounding Mr. Griffin. The first officer ran at Mr. Griffin and pulled the box cutter from his pocket. Officers confronted Mr. Griffin and he crouched back, prepared for a beating. Mr. Griffin was tackled to the ground by Officer Pedre. Mr. Griffin was then taken to the station, questioned, ticketed for disorderly conduct and released into his mother’s care.

Mr. Griffin claims that "no officer attempted to defuse the escalating situation," and that in fact he was "targeted by multiple officers after a farcical 911 call related to the stalking of a young Jewish man who, not surprisingly, was nowhere to be seen when he was stopped."

His 3-count lawsuit charges that 1) his 4th Amendment Rights were violated as he was subjected to a Stop and Frisk event despite no tangible evidence of any stalking or otherwise criminal intent, 2) his 14th Amendment Rights were violated as he was "subjected to an initial stop due to his being targeted as a Black man in downtown Lakewood," and he "was subjected to a Stop and Frisk event despite no tangible evidence of any stalking or otherwise criminal intent," and 3) his New Jersey State Law Against Discrimination Law Against Discrimination Rights were violated.

Toms River Attorney Michael S. Nagurka Esq. of Rothstein, Mandell, Strohm, Halm and Cipriani is representing the Township and the officers named in the lawsuit. On May 10, 2022, he got the case moved to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, noting that federal rights charges should be pled in federal court.

Since the transfer of the case to federal court, the magistrate judge scheduled discovery as well as multiple telephone status conferences to discuss the status of discovery in the case. The Plaintiff's attorney failed to attend the fifth telephone status conference. Plaintiff’s counsel also failed to comply with numerous court orders relating to the initial disclosures and discovery requests.

Accordingly, U.S. Magistrate Judge Rukhsanah L. Singh has just now recommended that the complaint be dismissed without prejudice. The parties have fourteen days to file and serve objections to this recommendation.

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