It’s been more than a month since Felix DeJesus was last seen being handcuffed by a pair of New Jersey cops who were responding to call that he was drunk and bothering women at a bodega.
But the Paterson Police Department is refusing to release the body cam videos from those officers that may offer clues to his disappearance, claiming that it is part of an internal affairs investigation.
Paterson police told DeJesus’s family that two officers – whose names have not been released – detained him on February 2 but did not take him to jail or charge him with a crime.
Instead, the police department with a long history of corruption says it dropped the 41-year-old man off a few blocks away on the corner of Preakness Avenue and Front Street, which is about a block from the Passaic River where family members fear he may have drowned.
Paterson police referred all questions to the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office which took control over the police department’s internal affairs division last year because it did nothing to address the widespread corruption within the department. The prosecutor’s office confirmed the investigation into the missing man but offered little details.
“Felix DeJesus was not arrested or charged with any offense on Feb. 2 (and) no use of force report has been filed with Mr. DeJesus as the subject on that date,” Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Peter Foy told local media.
The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office took over the internal affairs department in April 2021 after the FBI arrested two officers for beating a man for no legal reason, then lying about it to cover for themselves.
That incident took place on December 14, 2020 when Paterson police officers Kevin Patino and Kendry Tineo-Restituvo pulled up in an unmarked car and confronted 19-year-old Osamah Alsaidi who was walking down the street with his hands in his pockets.
Patino was indicted in January 2022 on one count of conspiracy against rights by depriving a man of his constitutional right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by law enforcement officers; one count of deprivation of rights under color of law; and two counts of falsification of records in connection with that incident. The other cop, Tineo-Restituvo, is still under investigation.
The FBI also arrested another eight Paterson police officers between 2018 and 2020 for making unlawful traffic stops in order to steal money and drugs as well as beating people and filing false reports.
Seven of those cops have pleaded guilty and two have already been sentenced, Roger Then and Ruben McAusland, the latter who was selling drugs from his patrol car. McAusland was also convicted for beating a hospital patient while Then recorded.
Former cop Then has already served his six-month sentence while McAusland is serving a 66-month sentence.
The five who have pleaded guilty, Jonathan Bustios, Daniel Pent, Eudy Ramos, Frank Toledo and Matthew Torres remain free because they are expected to testify against their supervisor, Paterson Police Sergeant Michael Cheff.
Cheff pleaded not guilty and has yet go to trial because it keeps getting postponed due to the pandemic, according to prosecutors.
Cheff who was arrested in January 2019 is still collecting an annual salary of $136,960 “under provisions of the Paterson police union contract covering officers accused of crime,’ the Paterson Press explained.
Since none of above-mentioned cops were properly investigated by internal affairs, the New Jersey Attorney General last year handed over control of the division to the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office.
According to the April 27, 2021 press release from the New Jersey Attorney General:
“The people of Paterson deserve a police department worthy of their trust,” said Attorney General Grewal. “They deserve to know that allegations of misconduct are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. With today’s action, the Prosecutor’s Office will ensure that happens. I applaud Prosecutor Valdes for taking this important step.”
“The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office will continue to work with the Paterson Police Department to enhance greater delivery of services and greater accountability,” said Prosecutor Valdes. “We look forward to an expansive analysis of the needs of the department, from infrastructure to police practices to personnel. There is no better place to continue the important work of reform and restoration than the Internal Affairs Unit.”
But for the family of Felix DeJesus who was better known as “Joel,” there is still very little transparency or trust considering they did not even learn he had been taken into police custody until after they had reported him missing when the owner of the bodega told them as they were posting flyers throughout the neighborhood with his name and photo.
“If they didn’t do anything wrong, why can’t we get the footage?’ Giovanni DeJesus, the missing man’s brother, asked the Paterson City Council Tuesday night, according to the Paterson Press.