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2 NJ Cops Plead Guilty to Vandalizing Cars of Man Who Filed Complaint Against Them

Asbury Park police officers Stephen Martinsen and Thomas Dowling recently pled guilty to vandalizing vehicles owned by an individual who had filed a complaint against them. 

Asbury Park Police Officers Admit to Damaging Vehicle in Retaliation for Internal Affairs Complaint

Martinsen, 31, and Dowling, 27, admitted in court to slashing the tires of two vehicles and smashing the window of one vehicle during an incident in September 2019; the vehicles were owned by a resident of Asbury Park who had submitted an internal affairs complaint against the officers with the Asbury Park Police Department. Both Martinsen and Dowling were convicted of causing more than $500 in damage. Martinsen had been suspended without pay following the incident, while Dowling was terminated from the police department after the criminal charges in this case were filed. 

According to the terms of their plea agreements, the former officers will pay restitution for the cost of the damage and permanently forfeit any future public employment with the state of New Jersey. Prosecutors will also recommend probation for both men contingent on compensating the victim for the damaged vehicles. Prosecutors declined to release details about the victim or the internal affairs complaint he had filed against Martinsen and Dowling.

What to Do If You Are Arrested for Vandalism or Retaliating Against a Complainant

While vandalism alone might seem like a minor criminal offense, an act of vandalism committed in retaliation against someone for their role in a criminal, civil, or administrative complaint can carry serious criminal penalties. New Jersey law makes retaliation against a witness or informant a crime itself. Specifically, the statute prohibits “harm[ing] another by an unlawful act with purpose to retaliate for or on account of the service of another” as a witness or informant. A conviction for criminal retaliation requires proving that the defendant harmed another person (including by causing any loss, disadvantage, or injury) and that such harm was the result of an unlawful act committed by the defendant. Vandalizing a vehicle owned by an individual in retaliation for that individual’s filing of a criminal or administrative complaint or serving as a witness in criminal, civil, or administrative proceedings would likely fall within the meaning of the retaliation statute. In addition to the retaliation charge, prosecutors would likely also charge you with the underlying unlawful act.

It may be possible to defend against charges of retaliation or the underlying act of vandalism. For example, one potential defense may be identity, if you can argue that you were not the perpetrator of the act (such as if you have an alibi or if the prosecution is seeking to establish your identity as the perpetrator based solely on the circumstantial evidence of your motive to commit retaliation). Depending on the circumstances of the alleged victim, you might be able to argue that he or she is not among the class of persons intended to be protected under the retaliation statute. 

Finally, you may choose to try to avoid the most serious punishments possible under a conviction by negotiating a plea bargain and offering, such as in the case above, to pay restitution to the victim or victims for the damage caused.

Contact an Experienced Summit Criminal Defense Lawyer About Your Vandalism or Retaliation Charges in New Jersey

Were you arrested or charged with vandalism or retaliation in New Jersey? The consequences of a conviction could be severe, leaving you with a permanent criminal record and possibly even sending you to jail. That is why you need to speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney as soon as possible about your case. The attorneys at Zegas Law have successfully represented clients charged with vandalism and retaliation in Middlesex County, Essex County, Bergen County, Union County, and throughout New Jersey. Call (973) 379-1999 or fill out the online contact form to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team. We have an office conveniently located at 60 Morris Turnpike, Summit, NJ 07901.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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