When the New Black Panther party took the stage with bullhorns in Atlantic City on Labor Day, Gordon Sunkett knew his community rally had taken a controversial turn.
"I had never seen those guys in my life," said Sunkett, vice president of the school board in Winslow Township, Camden County. "I didn't know they were going to be there."
A few mintues later, Sunkett was in the back of a police van with those same Black Panthers. Now, he's claiming that falsified police reports have tarnished his reputation.
"I want my name cleared," Sunkett said, pointing to a headline that described him as a "black activist."
Sunkett, 50, has filed an internal- affairs complaint with the Atlantic City police and a lawsuit seeking $2.5 million in damages stemming from his arrest.
Sunkett, an organizer with the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, was charged with obstructing the police "by means of force or violence" while they were arresting the Panthers and an aide to an Atlantic City councilman.
One of the police reports claims that Sunkett "put his shoulder" into a police official. Another report claims he was "obstructing" the officers' path.
Reports also said Sunkett was challenging the officers to "arrest him too."
A police video obtained by Sunkett shows a band playing on a boardwalk amphitheater that day, suddenly interrupted by the appearance of Minister King Samir Shabazz, the controversial leader of Philadelphia's New Black Panther Party.
"To hell with good times," Shabazz shouted through the bullhorn as the band tried to drown him out with their rendition of "Celebration."
In the video, Sunkett can be seen walking back and forth in the audience, not on the stage with the three men who were later arrested.
When the arrests are made, Sunkett can be seen talking with and backing away from police as they approach him. Then, an officer puts his hand on Sunkett's shoulder, turns him around and handcuffs him.
The officer Sunkett is accused of "putting his shoulder" into is nowhere near him, Sunkett said, until they get to the van. In the video, it appears no contact is made.
"I honestly thought it was a mistake," he said.
Sunkett said he has repeatedly turned down plea agreements in the case.
"It's about principle," he said. "If you haven't done anything wrong, you should never admit guilt."
A spokeswoman for the Atlantic City Police Department did not return phone calls for comment. *