A Bridgeton police officer has been indicted for misusing pepper spray in a 2017 arrest and then lying about it in his police report, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Thursday.
John Grier III, 49, of the Cedarville section of Lawrence Township, is charged with violating an individual’s civil rights and falsifying a record for submitting a false police report about the assault, acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig said in a statement.
A federal grand jury returned the sealed indictment June 30, Honig said.
Grier surrendered Thursday and was arraigned by videoconference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ann Marie Donio, Honig said. He was released on $50,000 bond.
On June 18, 2017, Bridgeton police were dispatched to a gas station following a report of two males sitting at the gas station yelling at passersby, Honig said. When an officer arrived, he found the victim in the driver’s seat of a car parked by the gas pumps and another man sitting in the passenger seat.
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Grier arrived to the call as a backup officer, Honig said.
Eventually, the driver and passenger were issued summonses, and Grier departed the gas station, Honig said.
Within minutes, an officer who remained at the gas station radioed for assistance because the driver and passenger had gotten out of the car and approached him before he could drive off, Honig said.
As Grier drove back to the gas station, he grabbed a large can of pepper spray and pulled out the pin allowing its use, Honig said.
Upon Grier’s arrival, the driver was yelling at officers, Honig said.
Grier ordered the driver to get back into his vehicle and warned him that if he approached the officers again he would be arrested, Honig said.
The driver and passenger returned to their car and drove to the side of the gas station. At that point the officers had probable cause to arrest the victim for driving while intoxicated, Honig said.
The officers approached the car to arrest the victim, Honig said.
Grier got out of his car with the pepper spray in his hand and told another officer to “step back,” despite the fact that the officer had nearly finished handcuffing the victim, Honig said.
While holding the spray, Grier asked the victim, “Do you want to feel pain, sir?” Other officers were able to handcuff the victim without incident, Honig said. As an officer attempted to the place the handcuffed victim into the rear of a patrol vehicle, Grier sprayed the victim in the face.
The victim doubled over, Honig said. An officer helped the victim up and sat him on the edge of the rear seat of the police SUV.
Grier then sprayed the victim a second time, Honig said.
After the second burst of spray to the face, Grier asked the driver, “There, how do you like it now? Now get in the goddamn car.” Grier returned to the police station to prepare his report on the victim’s arrest, Honig said.
Grier prepared and submitted a false and fraudulent police report in which Grier falsely stated that the victim “refused [to enter the police vehicle] and continued to forcefully remain outside the vehicle,” and, in an effort to falsely justify the use of the pepper spray a second time, stated that the “spray did not strike [the victim] in the face and that it did not take immediate effect,” Honig said.
The violation of civil rights count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, Honig said. The false records count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. The maximum fine for each charge is $250,000.
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