On January 28, 2021, the City of Millville (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $95,000 to a local man who claimed that a police officer, who saw the man recording police activity with his cell phone, “invented a story” that led to the man being indicted for Aggravated Assault on a Police Officer–Third Degree.
In his lawsuit, David J. Carpenter, 64, a self-described “news junkie,” claimed that while he was driving through Millville on January 22, 2018, he used his cell phone to record “police action in progress.” He claimed that Patrolman Albert Chard, Jr., while waving him through the area of police activity, noticed his video-recording and gestured for him to cease recording. When Carpenter did not immediately comply, Chard allegedly walked in front of Carpenter’s pickup, began to pound on it and attempted to open the passenger door.
Carpenter stopped his pickup and Chard came around to the driver window and demanded to know why Carpenter “had not immediately put his phone down when commanded to do so.” When other officers surrounded his pickup, Carpenter said that he began to experience a panic attack because he feared “that Patrolman Chard would assault him” and called 911 for assistance.
Chard then allegedly “concocted a false description of the incident” and claimed that he was “dragged across High Street” by Carpenter’s pickup because he was “unable to let go fast enough” after he grabbed the pickup’s passenger door handle. Carpenter’s complaint claims that footage from a video surveillance camera at a nearby Rite Aid pharmacy “conclusively shows that Patrolman Chard was at no point ‘dragged’ by the pickup.”
Due to Chard’s allegedly fabricated story, Carpenter was arrested and charged with assault by auto, calling 911 without needing service, obstruction with a lawful investigation and several motor vehicle violations. Chard allegedly repeated his version of events to the Cumberland County Grand Jury which returned a two-count indictment against him for Aggravated Assault on a Police Officer and Eluding a Police Officer, both Crimes of the Third Degree. After his indictment, Carpenter was suspended without pay from his position as a boiler engineer at a state-run developmental center.
All charges against Carpenter except for a Using a Cellphone While Driving charge were dismissed by the prosecutor on April 2, 2018. At a plea hearing before Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Michael Silvano, the Assistant Prosecutor stated:
However, with respect to the Indictment, we did look at several videos, including the Defendant’s cell phone video that he was using while driving, filming the incident. We also did pull several surveillance videos after that. Had made a determination, me and my supervisors, that after viewing the video, that there were no indictable level offenses to which Carpenter should have been indicted for. I believe he was indicted for Aggravated Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer as one of the offenses, and again, there was, in the State’s view, no factual for that. So we’re agreeing to dismiss the Indictment in exchange for Carpenter to plead guilty to the motor vehicle violation of Operating a Cell Phone While Driving a Motor Vehicle.
Carpenter pleaded guilty to the cellphone charge and was fined $400 plus court costs. As a result of being arrested and charged, he lost his job, health insurance, and suffered other ailments because of the public humiliation. He claimed that the incident caused him to lose sleep and suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
A video of the incident taken from Carpenter’s cell phone is embedded within a February 8, 2019 Daily Journal article.
Chard was hired by Millville on March 4, 2016 and remains employed as a police officer at the time of this writing. His annual salary is $51,554.00.
The case is captioned Carpenter v. Chard, et al, Federal Case No. 1:18-cv-10959 and Carpenter’s attorney was Richard H. Maurer of Marlton. Case documents are on-line here.
The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms. Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.
None of lawsuit’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants. All that is known for sure is that Millville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Carpenter $95,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.