The size of the $850,000 settlement of Edwin Rodriguez’s lawsuit against the City of Perth Amboy (Middlesex County) prompted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s office for the certifications and briefs filed in Rodriguez’s appeal of his May 29, 2014 conviction by Municipal Court Judge Edward H. Herman. 
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The following facts are mostly undisputed.  On September 5, 2013, Officer Davis Salazar was dispatched to Rodriguez’s home at 188 State Street to investigate a complaint of mini-bikes riding on the street.  188 State Street is a two-family home owned by Rodriguez’s family who lives in the second floor unit and rents out the first floor unit.  Salazar who claimed that Rodriguez “was acting a little squirrely” demanded to see his identification.  Rodriguez apparently did not want to converse with Salazar but said that he would go upstairs to get his identification.  Salazar followed Rodriguez to the house where Rodriguez entered a doorway to a vestibule that served both the downstairs and upstairs unit.  Rodriguez attempted to close the door but Salazar had placed his foot in the threshold which prevented the door from closing.

The parties hotly dispute what happened next.  Salazar said that he observed a knife in Rodriguez’s hand “as he was walking up the stairs” (apparently away from Salazar) which he “perceived to be a threat to his personal safety.”  Salazar claimed that he told Rodriguez that he was under arrest and simultaneously “took [Rodriguez] to the floor.”  Rodriguez, however, said that the knife was a fabrication and that both he and downstairs neighbor Orlando Gomez videoed the encounter and that the recordings proved that there was no knife.

Judge Hermann did not permit either video to be entered into evidence even though Rodriguez’s attorney, Brian Schiller, claimed that they “would vindicate [Rodriguez] of all charges and clearly set forth Salazar’s fabricated police report.”  The videos, however, are likely still in the Police Department’s or Prosecutor’s possession and would likely be subject to disclosure if an OPRA request were to be filed that requested them.

Herman convicted Rodriguez of two disorderly persons charges that were later reversed on appeal.  Rodriguez said that the force of Salazar’s take-down resulted in him having a broken right clavicle.  He claimed that after the take-down, Salazar sprayed him with OC spray and dragged him out on to the front porch by his ankles.

Schiller made other allegations regarding Herman’s fairness including a comment Herman allegedly made about not wanting to leave the City “vulnerable to [Rodriguez’s] civil suit and his alleged, improper urging of Rodriquez to take the prosecutor’s plea bargain.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]