Two New Jersey police officers pleaded guilty this week to fourth-degree criminal mischief charges stemming from the retaliation they took against a city resident who filed an internal affairs complaint against them in September 2019.
On Tuesday, Asbury Park police officer Stephen Martinsen and former city Special Law Enforcement Officer Thomas Dowling admitted to vandalizing vehicles belonging to Ernest Mignoli after he filed an internal affairs complaint against them with the police department, according to a statement released Tuesday by the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office. The pair smashed a window on one of Mignoli's vehicles and used a knife to slash tires on that vehicle and another, inflicting $500 worth of damage.
Mignoli told New Jersey 101.5 that a few days before his vehicles were vandalized, he had filed a complaint after seeing a drunk officer riding an electric scooter and performing tricks on a sidewalk outside of a bar frequented by police. In a 2019 interview, Mignoli described himself as an "outspoken critic of Asbury Park Police Department" and says he has documented multiple instances of what he believes to be inappropriate behavior carried out by local police.
When the charges against Martinsen and Dowling were announced last year, the prosecutor's office told the Asbury Park Press it could not speak to the nature of the administrative complaint, but said the police officers wore disguises on the night they damaged Mignoli's property. Martinsen was initially suspended without pay while Dowling was terminated.
"Spiteful retaliation from law enforcement officers towards a citizen for any reason is an unacceptable option," said Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni in the Tuesday statement. "This is in no way condoned at any level, for any reason."
Asbury Park Police Chief David Kelso, who previously denounced the officers' lack of "professionalism," told Reason, "These officers were held accountable for their actions and misconduct and we will continue to hold our officers responsible to build upon the trust of the community that we serve."