Terence Jones is still distraught three months after his acquittal in a case that is now under scrutiny by the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP and its Gloucester County chapter.
In his first interview since he was vindicated, Jones says he remains "bothered and upset" that he was prosecuted for filing a false police report when he complained he was racially profiled in a 2007 traffic stop in Woolwich Township.
Jones, who is African American, had faced up to 18 months in prison; his restless nights dragged on longer than a year until his trial in December.
Visibly angered, Superior Court Judge M. Christine Allen-Jackson had called the case "chilling" when she found him not guilty. It was over, and Jones sobbed in relief.
Now, the former Philadelphia police officer is fighting back. He filed a civil rights lawsuit against the police, the prosecutor, and others. He wants unspecified damages and changes to end racial profiling.
"They wanted to silence me," said Jones, 45, who lives in rural South Harrison with his family. "My civil rights were violated, and they could do that to someone else."
Jones has touched a nerve in the black community. He said his pastor recently invited him to speak at his church, Mount Calvary Baptist, about his ordeal and the problems of "driving while black," a reference to the practice in which minorities are disproportionately stopped and searched.
"A lot of people came up to me afterward and said they, too, had been stopped for driving while black and that it was something they've grown accustomed to," Jones said. "They felt nothing would be done if they complained, and they didn't want to become a target."
Phillip Warner, the Gloucester County NAACP president, said a committee of state and local members was conducting an independent assessment of the case.
They also are examining the prosecutor's handling of hate crimes against former South Harrison Mayor Charles Tyson, who received death threats around the same time as Jones' traffic stop Feb. 4, 2007. Tyson, who is African American, recently gave up the mayor's job, citing ongoing racial tensions. The prosecutor has made no arrests.
"The whole atmosphere down there has been toxic," Warner said. South Harrison borders Woolwich.
Tawfiq Barqawi, another committee member, said: "When we find people who are willing to fight discrimination, we have to stand with them. It's an example for other people to fight back, especially to show they can win, and to show law enforcement they need to be careful and stop attacking black people for no reason."
Prosecutor Sean Dalton initially cooperated with the NAACP, but he stopped when the organization informed the media of its investigation two weeks ago, Warner said.
Dalton has said that his office "thoroughly investigated" the Jones and Tyson matters and that his office "will continue to investigate and present matters fairly under the law." He also touted his record of hiring minorities.
"The matter of interest to the NAACP is subject to civil litigation in U.S. District Court," Bernie Weisenfeld, Dalton's spokesman, wrote in an e-mail. "It is inappropriate to comment about it while that case is pending. Any cooperation with a separate NAACP investigation must wait until completion of the lawsuit."
In July 2007, a grand jury indicted Jones for filing a false police report and lying under oath after County Investigator Lt. John Porter testified that "nothing" in Jones' written complaint was true.
A videotape of the stop, recorded by a camera in the police car, was never played for the grand jurors. It shows Patrolman Michael Schaeffer, who is white, pulling Jones over on a blustery night and asking why Jones was exiting an industrial park. Jones noted this in his letter of complaint to the chief.
Schaeffer is then heard repeatedly asking Jones if he has been drinking and if Jones will allow a vehicle search. When Jones says he never drinks and won't permit a search, Schaeffer orders Jones out of his Lincoln Navigator, frisks him, and then leans into the vehicle through the open windows and looks around.
Schaeffer also does a sobriety test, after confiding to his backup that he did not smell alcohol on Jones' breath. He is heard on the tape blaming the lack of a scent on the strong winds and he tells the officer that he feels Jones is "just shady."
"I didn't do anything wrong," Jones said, "and what bothered me was he didn't believe anything I said. He asked if I had anything illegal in my vehicle, insinuating I was a drug dealer or was involved in some type of illegal activity because I'm black and was driving an expensive vehicle."
Jones was not ticketed, but he was shaken. "It was the feeling of racism that frightened me," he said.
Jones and his family had moved to a posh cul-de-sac in South Harrison two years earlier. After 11 years on the Philadelphia police force, where he was a plainclothes officer with the Anti-Crime Unit, he is on disability from an on-the-job injury and does consulting on public-safety issues.
Jones wrestled with his feelings before deciding eight days later to send a letter to Woolwich Police Chief Russell Marino. "I wondered whether it would be taken seriously and whether it was worth the fight," he said. When about a week went by and Jones got no response, Jones called.
At the trial, Marino testified that he never received the letter and that he told Jones he would pick up a copy at Jones' home and investigate.
The chief decided to give the prosecutor the complaint and did not question or discipline Schaeffer.
Porter said he, too, did not question Schaeffer because the officer invoked his right to remain silent.
Schaeffer's recollection was that he had discussed the traffic stop with Porter for about 15 minutes and that he did not refuse questions.
Schaeffer testified that it was his job to investigate suspicious activity and that he had observed someone leaving an industrial park around midnight. He said he had a right to pat down Jones before doing a sobriety test. He needs to protect citizens from drunken drivers, he said.
Jones is now pushing for video cameras to be installed in all police cars in Gloucester County. "The cameras capture the behavior of a police officer and his condescending attitude when he pulls someone over for driving while black," he said. Jones said he was just making a U-turn and had explained that to the officer.
A decade ago, the state police agreed to put video cameras in all patrol vehicles to avoid a federal civil rights lawsuit after investigators looked at racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike. Local police departments are not required to have cameras, though many do.
Although Jones was comforted to learn there was a tape of the Woolwich stop, Porter believed the recording implicated Jones. Porter found 14 discrepancies when he matched Jones' account to what was on tape.
Porter said Jones had fabricated a story to implicate the officer. William Buckman, Jones' attorney, scoffed at the discrepancies and said they were "slight inconsistencies" comparable to variations often found in eyewitness accounts.
The judge found some inaccuracies, but she called them immaterial. She criticized the prosecutor for building a questionable case and said Schaeffer should have been disciplined.
One of the discrepancies was that Jones got the sequence of the patrolman's remarks wrong.
"I gave an account to the best of my recollection," Jones said. "I'm human."
Another was that Jones said his vehicle was searched, though Schaeffer never entered and looked under seats. The judge, however, said that when Schaeffer leaned into the vehicle, that constituted a search.
The prosecutor's spokesman says the last sentence of Jones' complaint is significant. Jones says Schaeffer told him: "You can leave now. I'll get you the next time."
"As the patrol car video shows, this is an allegation about a threat that did not occur," the spokesman said.
Three months after the stop, Jones reported the license number of another Woolwich patrol car that he said followed him several miles. The chief found the car was not assigned to patrols that day and the prosecutor charged Jones with filing another false report.
The judge acquitted Jones of this count, too, saying the prosecutor did little to verify the cruiser had not been used that day.
Judge Allen-Jackson also said the prosecutor should have evaluated the videotape and realized it depicted an improper stop and search.
"There's no evidence [Jones] was drinking or improperly operating a vehicle," she said. "There's no reason to give him a sobriety test. It's minus-9 degrees. It's cold. He exercised a constitutionally protected right to say no to a search."
Jones believes the tape saved him.
"It would have been my word against the police officer's," he said. "I might have been doing 18 months in jail."