A former Philadelphia police officer who cost the city nearly $3 million in out-of-court settlements for shooting a bystander and killing a suspect a decade ago is embroiled in two New Jersey court cases with racial overtones.
Terence Jones, 45, now of South Harrison in Gloucester County, is scheduled to appear in two back-to-back trials, first as an accused man, and then as the accuser in a racial-bias case. It's a predicament that defense lawyers on both sides say is outrageous and rare.
Jones, who is black, is expected to testify that he was the victim of racially motivated road rage in April 2006 in South Harrison, where he lives in a house that was valued at $600,000 when he bought it four years ago.
But he also will stand trial on charges that he filed false reports claiming that police in neighboring Woolwich Township harassed him ater he reported the road-rage incident.
"This is very, very unusual. You have a guy being prosecuted and being a witness for the same office," said Leonard S. Baker, a Haddonfield criminal attorney who represents James J. Trexler, the man charged in the road-rage case.
Trexler, 23, of Pittsgrove, Salem County, is white and was previously convicted of putting a burning cross on the lawn of another black man. He was on probation when he was accused of pointing a gun at Jones and making a racial slur suggesting that Jones shouldn't be driving a BMW.
Baker, however, says Jones' credibility was undermined when the prosecutor later pursued an indictment against him for allegedly lying and falsely incriminating two police officers.
"The issue is whether he's telling the truth," the lawyer said. "He's a habitual liar."
According to Baker, Jones has filed at least five other police reports claiming racial harassment and intimidation in Gloucester County and Flossmoor, Ill.
But William H. Buckman, Jones' attorney, says people shouldn't be prosecuted for filing complaints about mistreatment.
"This type of indictment is aimed at chilling free speech or stopping someone from complaining about the government," Buckman said. "My client raises a complaint about being racially harassed, and then he's stopped by police. He's pulled out of the car and frisked. And when he complains about that, then apparently they've lost patience with him and want to shut him up. They indict him. It doesn't pass the smell test."
At issue is a videotape captured by a camera mounted on Woolwich police vehicles. The prosecution contends the tape shows that there was no improper search, but the defense says it "clearly" shows the opposite.
Buckman, a Moorestown lawyer who's built a reputation on fighting racial profiling over his three-decade career, says a white police officer stopped Jones on the road because he is black and then searched his car and verbally abused him. The prosecutor overstepped his bounds when he indicted him without just cause, Buckman said.
Jones is scheduled to stand trial starting today in state Superior Court in Woodbury on charges of filing a false police report in Woolwich Township in February 2007 and another one in May 2007. In the second incident, Jones alleged a police officer followed him in his car.
Jones said "no comment" when contacted at home in South Harrison last week.
Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton issued only a prepared statement: "Both matters are pending before court. This office's policy dictates that we don't comment on pending matters. Like anyone else, Mr. Jones will have his day in court. Anyone is certainly welcome to attend the court proceedings and find out more."
Judge M. Christine Allen-Jackson will preside over what is expected to be a weeklong trial.
Then, next Monday, Jones is scheduled to be the prosecutor's lead witness against Trexler.
Jones told police that Trexler followed him in a Dodge Ram pickup on rural state Highway 45 and flashed his high beams. When Jones pulled over, he says Trexler made derogatory remarks and pointed a gun at him. Jones took down the license number and reported it.
Police said that when Trexler was questioned, he admitted to being in the vicinity but denied making the statements. Police found a paintball gun in his truck and charged Trexler with bias intimidation and weapons offenses.
Baker says he will try to get evidence admitted that shows Jones filed police reports at least seven other times since 2001, including the two Woolwich incidents, claiming that he was harassed. His allegations included a car jacking, another road-rage incident and finding racist literature in his mailbox. Police investigated, but they either could not find suspects or found insufficient evidence to file a charge, according to court documents.
On Feb. 20, 2007, Jones complained that two white men wearing white hoods drove him off the road a block from his home and brandished guns, according to South Harrison Police Chief Warren Mabey. They yelled to him that he should "drop all charges against James Trexler" and one shouted "Long live the Klan." A police investigation turned up empty. Jones was stopped by Woolwich Township police eight days later.
South Harrison, a town of 2,700, has witnessed racial incidents before. When Charles Tyson became the town's first black mayor two years ago, he received death threats laced with racial slurs. His campaign signs were spray-painted with offensive graffiti. The prosecutor investigated, but no arrests were made. Tyson is still in office.
Mabey said the mayor's case and the Jones matter were the only racial-intimidation cases he knew of in the township.
Jones, a 10-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, fatally shot a man he believed had broken into his car in 1998 when he was off duty. A grand jury found charges were not warranted, and the district attorney said the shooting of the 20-year-old man was accidental. The city later paid $450,000 to the man's cousin to settle a lawsuit.
In 1995, Jones shot a bystander in a convenience-store robbery, paralyzing him. The city settled a lawsuit with that man for $2.2 million.
A few years later he left the department.