The head of the local police department allowed Planet Princeton to view a video of Princeton University Professor Imani Perry’s Feb. 8 arrest booking on Friday afternoon.
Police will not release copies of Perry’s booking video to the press, arguing that the video is exempt from the state’s Open Public Records Act for security reasons. Police will also not allow the booking room to be filmed or photographed, even when empty, citing the same security reasons.
The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office has conducted an initial investigation in the case, reviewing the dash cam and booking room videos, and has found no wrongdoing by the Princeton Police. Perry was supposed to meet with the prosecutor’s office about the matter Wednesday, but she canceled the meeting. Unless she comes forward with new information, the case will be closed.
After her arrest last Saturday, Perry posted on social media that she was mistreated by the police and received disparate treatment because she is black.
The booking room video, viewed by Planet Princeton at police headquarters, shows the female officer who drove Perry to the station escorting her into the booking room at 9:41 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8.
Perry’s hands are cuffed behind her back when she enters. Immediately after she enters, she is seated across from a work station, her handbag is placed on a the workstation in front of her, and the officer uncuffs her right wrist. The left wrist remains handcuffed and the officer then attaches the handcuff that was previously on Perry’s right wrist to another handcuff chain that is attached to a silver bar. The silver bar is connected to the front of the booking work station, which looks like a long desk.
Perry is allowed to take items from her handbag, and about 39 seconds into the video she takes her cell phone from her bag and begins texting people. She has her phone in her hand and spends the next several minutes texting.
A police officer sitting across from her processes her paperwork, she reaches in her handbag for her wallet, and then pays her fine. Her left wrist is then uncuffed at 10:03 a.m. Her photograph and fingerprints are taken, and she leaves the booking room at 10:17 a.m.
Policies and Warrants
Princeton Police Chief Nicholas Sutter, who has led the department since mid 2013, the year Princeton Borough and Princeton Township consolidated and the two police forces were merged, said the police department’s current policy, considered a best practice in the state, is to handcuff every person who is arrested. The only exceptions are when someone has a physical injury, is pregnant and almost due, or is accompanied by an infant. When a person is arrested and can’t make bail or is waiting to be sent to another law enforcement agency, the person is placed in a cell, Sutter said.
In 2015, the Princeton Police Departent made 339 bench warrant arrests. A bench warrant is a court order commanding police to arrest someone. If a person has an outstanding parking ticket but there is no active warrant for the person’s arrest, police do not take any action. Parking tickets don’t come into play during a motor vehicle stop if there is no active warrant. It is a court matter, not a police matter, until a warrant is issued.
Sutter said police must arrest the person if they discover the person has an active warrant. Warrants are issued by the court for failure to appear when a person does not pay two or more parking tickets, ignores two court dates, and does not respond to notices sent in the mail.
Perry was pulled over by a Princeton officer for driving 67 miles per hour in a 45-mile-per hour zone on Mercer Street near Quaker Road on Feb. 8. She did not have her registration when she was pulled over. A computer search showed she had an outstanding warrant from the Princeton Municipal Court for failure to appear for two parking-related tickets. Her Pennsylvania license had been revoked for reasons unrelated to the Princeton tickets. According to Pennsylvania public records, she has two outstanding cases in the state, one for not paying parking tickets and another for driving an unregistered vehicle.
When police make an arrest in Princeton, regardless of what the arrest is for, the person is supposed to be patted down and cuffed, Sutter said. At the police station, everyone is supposed to be cuffed while they are being booked.
“That’s the policy. Everyone who is arrested, regardless of the alleged offense, is supposed to be treated the same regardless of the charges, race, socioeconomic status, or where the person is employed,” he said. “Everyone is cuffed for the officer’s safety and their own. A person may not be dangerous, but we have to treat everyone equally. It’s not a situation where you want people using discretion.”
Sutter said to his knowledge, every person who was arrested on a warrant in 2015 was cuffed. “If they were not, then the officer was not following the proper policy,” he said.
When asked about pat-downs, Sutter said a pat-down is not a body search. Pockets are checked for items, and shoes are also checked. There is not a policy in the Princeton Police Department that says a pat-down must be done by an officer who is the same gender as the person being arrested, but Sutter was quick to say that in the aftermath of the Perry arrest, the department is looking at creating a policy that would call for an officer of the same gender to conduct the pat-down if there is an officer of the same gender who is available.
Sutter has also been an advocate of town police wearing body cameras. The cost is an issue, but he and the police union want the cameras for the department if the town has the funding.
Planet Princeton solicited stories from readers this week about their experiences related to warrant arrests.
A white female lawyer who lives in Princeton said she was arrested about a year and a half ago in the Whole Earth Center parking lot because her car registration had expired. She said she was handcuffed and patted down by a female officer before she was placed in the patrol car. The officer checked to make sure there was nothing in her pockets or socks. There was no touching near private areas, she said. She recalls the handcuffs being removed so her mugshot could be taken.
“I remember I was angry because they made me remove my sunglasses from the top of my head for the mugshot,” she said. “I was mostly angry and embarrassed at myself for not renewing my registration. The police were no nonsense – not mean, but not going out of their way to be friendly either. It was just efficient.”
A white male business owner downtown who is also a Princeton resident was arrested in front of his own store in mid 2015 for a warrant for not paying his parking tickets.
“The officer casually looked up my license, as they do often, while driving behind me. The officer explained why she pulled me over and then said she had to take me to the station to settle the fine and that I would need to be handcuffed,” he said. ” I questioned why handcuffed and she calmly explained that she had to follow procedures. Humiliating? Yes. Excessive? Yes. Necessary? Yes, until someone changes the law or procedures. One thing this humiliating event taught me is to pay any parking tickets on time.”
But a white Rutgers University Professor who was pulled over in January of 2010 in the former Princeton Borough said she was treated better than Perry. After doing a u-turn on Nassau Street and being pulled over on Vandeventer Avenue, she was arrested for a warrant from East Windsor for not paying parking tickets. Her sixth-grade son was in the mini-van with her, the female police officer drove them to the school, let the mother walk him to class, and then took the mother to the station. She was never handcuffed or patted down, and said the police were really nice about the situation and almost apologetic.
Planet Princeton is currently reviewing police stops, warrant arrests, and other data to assess claims of disparate treatment based on race. A follow up story will be posted when the review is complete.