Court issues robbery convictions, citing bias in police arrest | New Jersey News

By DAVID PORTER, Associated Press

Two black men who went to jail for the armed robbery of a convenience store had their convictions overturned on Tuesday by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which ruled unconstitutional the police stop of their vehicle that led to their arrest because it focused on their race and gender without additional identifying factors.

Among several organizations that submitted briefs to the Supreme Court in support of the defendants was an association of black ministers represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Coalition of Latino Officers, and the Georgetown Law Juvenile Justice Clinic and Initiative.

They argued that the stop essentially amounted to racial profiling since the other factors cited by police – including the location of the car in relation to the theft and the behavior of the occupants when passing an officer responding to the scene – were not sufficient to create reasonable suspicion.

The state argued that these factors along with the short time between the flight and the stoppage were sufficient to justify it.

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Peter Nyema and Jamar Myers were arrested while driving with another man in Hamilton, outside Trenton, in May 2011. Minutes earlier police received a call about a robbery at a 7-Eleven neighbor by two black men who had fled on foot.

A responding officer testified that he turned on his forward-facing spotlight as he approached the scene and noticed a car carrying three black men pass him, the occupants not registering any reaction to bright light, which he considered suspicious.

After the car was stopped, a search revealed dark clothing on the rear seat floor that matched a description given by witnesses, along with approximately $600, the approximate amount stolen from the store. A handgun was also found under the hood of the car.

Myers pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years, and Nyema pleaded guilty at trial and was sentenced to 15 years. However, both men filed motions to have the evidence from the car removed, claiming the evidence was seized unlawfully because the stop was not based on reasonable suspicion.

Separate appeals courts have split on the issue, with one siding with Nyema and overturning his conviction and the other rejecting Myers’ appeal and leaving his conviction standing.

In its decision on Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the police had no reasonable suspicion to stop the car given the information they had at the time, which “effectively placed every black man in the area under veil of suspicion”.

“The initial description did not provide any additional physical descriptions such as height, weight, approximate age of the suspects, clothing worn, mode of transportation, or any other identifying characteristic that would differentiate the two black suspects from any other males. black in New York. Jersey,” Judge Fabiana Pierre-Louis wrote for a unanimous court. “If this description alone was sufficient to allow the police to proceed with an investigation of the defendants’ vehicle, law enforcement officers would have been authorized to arrest every black male within a reasonable radius of the theft.”

Nyema was released from prison in late 2020, according to the state Department of Corrections website, after the appeals court overturned his conviction. Myers pleaded guilty to an unrelated murder charge and in 2017 was sentenced to 30 years in prison without parole.

A message seeking comment was left with the Mercer County District Attorney’s Office, which argued for the state.

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