WESTFIELD, NJ — Not seeing satisfaction with the court, the attorney for a man claiming he was wrongly given a speeding ticket is seeking municipal officials’ intervention.
Marek Kaplo, a 37-year-old Clark man, claims police pulled over the wrong person for speeding on Jan. 13 and with the case still on the docket eight months later, his attorney is seeking municipal officials’ help. Kaplo’s attorney, Joshua McMahon, told the Town Council last week that video taken from both Kaplo’s vehicle and police dash camera video prove his case.
“Those videos make it incontrovertibly crystal clear that the officer charged the wrong person,” McMahon said. “His mental state as to why he charged the wrong person, whether he was mistaken and reckless or whether he lied at this point, is unknown.”
The video taken from the rear of Kaplo’s vehicle shows the headlights of what he claims was the speeding car in the distance behind him and then the headlights of what he claims was the police officer who later stopped him.
“He was nowhere in the area where the police officer says he was,” McMahon said.
In the police dashcam video, the officer tells Kaplo he is ticketing the man for exceeding the speed limit while driving along Central Avenue. “I’m not here to argue with you,” the officer tells Kaplo. “You can argue with it. You can take it to court. I gave you a speeding ticket for going 54 in a 25.”
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McMahon told the council Westfield police refused to look at his client’s video and that when Kaplo filed an internal affairs complaint alleging he was unlawfully stopped, police wrote to Kaplo that the department would investigate the complaint after the court decides on the ticket.
“The Westfield Police Department has assigned this investigation to Lieutenant Jason Rodger,” police wrote in a Feb. 25 letter to Kaplo. “He will commence his investigation into this matter once the motor vehicle summons you were issued during the traffic stop is adjudicated at the municipal court level.”
What do Westfield police say?
Police Chief Chris Battiloro said Kaplo has the right to have his case heard in municipal court.
“If a person is issued a summons and they are not guilty, they have certain rights. Among them is the right to a trial before a judge in municipal court,” Battiloro told TAPinto Westfield. “If he feels he is not guilty of the offense, he should avail himself of the legal process.”
Battiloro had told NJ Advance Media earlier this month the department is reviewing the video and may decide before the next court date if that video warrants dismissing the ticket. That determination has not been made as of Tuesday.
Kaplo’s case is to be heard before Municipal Court Judge Parag Patel Thursday, Aug. 29, at 4:30 p.m., a court administrator said.
McMahon argues his client’s internal affairs complaint should be addressed prior to the court matter being adjudicated.
“He has to spend his own money because for months and months your self-appointed municipal prosecutor and your self-appointed judge drag him back into court over and over and over again,” McMahon told the council. His client, who works as an engineer, is a Polish immigrant.
What do the Prosecutors Say?
Yvette Gibbons, the municipal prosecutor for Westfield, declined discuss the case. “I have no comment on it but you are more than free to come to court,” Gibbons told TAPinto Westfield.
The Union County Prosecutor’s Office, McMahon said, is aware of the case and has declined to intervene.
Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Mark Spivey said the office has no comment.
While the Town Council seems an unlikely place to hear a municipal court matter, both the police chief and municipal prosecutor were appointed by the mayor with the council’s approval.
The municipality also anticipates receiving $565,000 in revenue, derived from municipal court fines and fees this year, the town’s budget shows.
A July 2018 report from the state’s Supreme Court Committee found that court fines and fees have a disproportionate impact on the poor and often become a beginning point for an ongoing cycle of court involvement for people with limited resources.
Since the issuance of that report, Westfield’s Municipal Court witnessed a 28% decline in overall filings — 17,737 between July 2018 and June of this year, down from 24,667 during that time the year prior. Court filings for traffic violations, including speeding, declined by 35% to 3,433 filings, down from 5,304 the year prior, the figures show.
Mayor Shelley Brindle did not respond directly to McMahon’s comments, nor did any of the council members address his comments.
When McMahon persisted at the microphone beyond the 10 minutes allotted in the public comment time, Brindle requested that a police officer assist in enforcing the time limit.
“None of this troubles you?” McMahon asked Brindle before the officer approached and he stepped down.
“Only that you’re taking up the time of others who want to speak,” Brindle replied. “… I trust the municipal court process.”
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh