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Penns Grove, N.J., cop arrested after allegedly kicking handcuffed suspect in the face

The incident occurred Thanksgiving Day; the suspect was being held following a burglary 911 call.

Penns Grove, N.J. police car parked outside the station in Salem County.
Penns Grove, N.J. police car parked outside the station in Salem County.Read moreJAN HEFLER

A Penns Grove, N.J., police officer has been charged with aggravated assault for "kicking an individual in the face while handcuffed" after the man's arrest Thanksgiving morning, the Salem County Prosecutor's Office announced.

Xaziel Ramos, 22, of Hopatcong, Sussex County, suffered facial abrasions from the attack and was taken to a hospital to be treated for hypothermia because he was out all night in the cold, authorities said Wednesday.

George Manganaro, 29, a patrolman with the department for seven years, was suspended pending a review, authorities said. He was released after being charged. Calls placed to his home in Penns Grove were not returned.

Ramos had been handcuffed after he was arrested in connection with a 911 call alerting officers to a burglary at a Carneys Point Township residence, according to Prosecutor John T. Lenahan. Ramos had been passing through Penns Grove from North Carolina on his way home for Thanksgiving, the prosecutor said.

After two Carneys Point officers responded to the call, Manganaro arrived on the scene as backup, the prosecutor said.

Manganaro's arrest is the latest problem for the small police department, which has been in turmoil in recent years.

Three years ago, the borough paid $2 million to settle an excessive-use-of-force lawsuit filed by the family of a man who died after Penns Grove police placed him in a choke hold, according to the New Jersey Law Journal. The coroner determined that MoShowon Leach, 31, died from blunt neck trauma after the officers Maced him, wrestled him to the ground, and kicked and punched him, the lawsuit said. A grand jury did not find grounds to indict the officers.

The 15-member police department is also facing a lawsuit filed by a former dispatcher who contends the police chief, the former chief, and two other officers, neither of them Manganaro, sexually harassed her, according to reports confirmed by officials. One of the two officers named in the suit, Anthony Minguez, was later charged with lewdness for allegedly exposing himself to two children in a restaurant restroom last March.

Manganaro also is suing the borough and the school district for damages after he was injured in a tussle with community activist Walter Hudson,  chairman of the civil rights group National Awareness Alliance, which is based in Salem County.

Hudson, who had organized a demonstration in front of the police station in 2010 to protest the death of Leach, called a news conference Wednesday at the police station to demand action be taken to prevent further police abuse. The arrest of Manganaro is "nothing new to the residents of Penns Grove," he said. "It is normal practice of rogue behavior towards citizens by the Penns Grove police."

After admitting he assaulted a police officer, Hudson was sentenced to probation in 2015.  He had refused the officer's orders to leave a school gymnasium and pushed the officer away, according to police reports.

Hudson alleged that the scuffle came after Manganaro had harrassed him by writing him tickets for speeding, reckless driving, and being on the suspended driving list after he organized the protest for Leach.  Hudson said the tickets were dismissed in court.

Hudson said he is suing the police department for harassment.

Mayor John Washington said he could not comment because of litigation.  "We don't have all the facts, but we will get to the bottom of it. As mayor of the city I am concerned about everything from both sides, the officer and the person who, as you say, got kicked."

After Ramos was treated for hypothermia at Memorial Hospital of Salem County, he was released to the custody of his parents, said Lenahan.  He will face charges of breaking and entering in Municipal Court in January.  The hospital visit was "unrelated to the incident with the police officer," Lenahan said. Efforts to reach Ramos were unsuccessful.

Lenahan said he did not know of any previous excessive use of force by Manganaro.

Police Chief John Stranahan Sr. is out on disability and could not be reached.  A police representative at the station said no one else was available to comment.