CAMDEN, NJ — Two Camden men, David Holmes and Derrick Gallashaw, say they were detained and searched by police without proper cause late Saturday night and have filed complaints against the officer.
It was around 11 p.m. when Holmes parked his truck at the home of his friend, Gallashaw — who lives near the corner of 4th Street and Ferry Avenue in the waterfront south neighborhood.
The two sat conversing in Holmes’ white pickup truck about potential summer plans. Roughly 40 minutes into the conversation, both men say they were approached by a Camden County police car — a situation they allege soon escalated unnecessarily.
The pair say they were told by the officer — later identified as Thang Ngo — that they were pulled over in part because they were idling in a vehicle that was turned on.
As their background information was gathered, Gallashaw, 40, said he was informed that he was liable to be ticketed for not wearing a seatbelt.
“At one point, [Officer Ngo] came back to the car, started putting the light inside, and then he started inquiring as to what was in my pocket. So I told him that it was my keys. He said, it doesn't look like a key. So at this point, I started to feel like this was turning in a different direction,” Gallashaw told TAPinto Camden.
Gallashaw and Holmes, 35, were shortly afterward put in handcuffs, a K-9 unit was reportedly called out from Pennsauken and the vehicle was searched.
“I was in the back of the cop car praying to God that nothing happened,” Holmes said. “Praying that they don't plant any types of drugs or weapons or something like that.”
The men said three officers were on the scene, soon joined by a supervisor which they requested to be called out.
Ultimately, both men were released.
Holmes and Gallashaw claim that although nothing resulted in the searches, they were both issued summonses. The tickets, obtained by TAPinto, read, “Loitering to commit” with a court date set for August 17.
“They charged us with loitering, even though we were in front of my house, with the intent to sell CDS [controlled dangerous substances]. That’s what I was told. Yet there was absolutely no drugs found,” Gallashaw said. “This was mind boggling... I felt like I was targeted, this was a misuse of power.”
A spokesperson from the police union was not immediately available to comment.
First Ward City Councilwoman Shaneka Boucher, who lives across the street from where the men were detained, was on the scene as well.
Boucher, who recorded the encounter, was allegedly informed by police that one of the men had a warrant.
“I was able to talk to the supervisor who came with me to take my complaint. He said that it was a mistake what he initially said...that [one of the men] didn’t have a warrant,” Boucher said over the phone Monday. “So there was no warrant. I just felt like I watched an illegal search take place twice. I think that this officer knew he was in the wrong."
Gallashaw says he was grateful his daughter was not home at the time.
“It would have been difficult, my daughter’s 8” Gallashaw said, “I’m extremely relieved she was at my sister’s house. She would’ve come to the door and saw what was happening. She would have been traumatized.”
Gallashaw and Holmes filed separate demeanor complaints against the Camden police department. Gallashaw said they did not claim excessive force or express that the stop felt racially-motivated, but laid out the matter to the internal affairs’ office.
“We told them we felt targeted, labeled and harassed...that it was a false complaint and a false stop,” he said.
Camden County Police Department (CCPD) spokesman Dan Keashen confirmed that the summonses were issued and a community complaint was submitted but said the department could not comment further as the incident was under investigation.
“We are currently investigating within internal affairs," Keashen said.
Councilwoman Boucher and both men expressed that it was important to remedy what leads to instances like that which took place over the weekend.
“I'm waiting to hear back from the investigation to see what their side of the story is, but from what I witnessed, it was just really disturbing and not what I was expecting, which is what we generally do: good community policing,” said Boucher. “This was an incident that failed in that regard."
Holmes and Gallashaw said Officer Ngo should be disciplined by the CCPD - but felt the department as a whole should not be castigated.
Gallashaw added that the other officers involved who did not intervene should also be held accountable but less severely.
Boucher says she was inspired by the incident to handle the situation at the city-level.
“I just want to make sure that we are going to have a practice where community members can look at what the officers are doing because right now, I don't know...this situation made me think that this might happen more often than we thought or assume,” Boucher said.
Below is a video excerpt of the encounter taken by Councilwoman Boucher:
This article will be updated with any developments.