Police Abuse

North Carolina Woman Dies in Police Custody in New Jersey

Was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia


Thomas family photo

A 21-year-old mother from North Carolina died in police custody in Neptune, NJ, after being arrested for possessing unspecified drug paraphernalia, a disorderly persons charge, NJ.com reports.

A spokesperson for the county prosecutor's office, which is investigating the death, told NJ.com via email last night that the woman, Katie Lee Thomas, was arrested at 8:40amin the parking lot of a strip club in Neptune on August 17, and was found in her cell not breathing at 2:54pm the same day.

Police have not yet explained what brought them to a strip club on a Wednesday morning or how they discovered Thomas was in possession of drug paraphernalia. Authorities performed an autopsy and are awaiting toxicology results. The prosecutor's investigation also suggests Thomas had an "unconfirmed medical episode" earlier in the day. Her mother, who says authorities have not offered any details on her daughter's death, mentioned her daughter had unspecified "mental health issues," which could not have been helped by her being put in a cage for possessing verboten inanimate objects.

The "disorderly conduct" charge itself is often a fuzzy one, which allows police officers to deploy it in all kinds of situations that may not actually require an arrest or the application of police force. The charge was "invented" in the 19th century for police to apply to street brawls between immigrants and nativists.

In New Jersey, a disorderly persons offense can lead to up to 6 months in jail, however, according to the Tormey Law Firm, there is a "presumption of non-incarceration" for first time offenders.