A 44-year-old man who was forcibly arrested for refusing to produce his license in a Voorhees Township traffic stop is suing the officers who punched and pepper sprayed him.
In the May 5, 2016 stop, Sean M. Shaw, then a state employee, said he wouldn’t produce his ID until the cop showed him a “writ or warrant” or other proof that he was required to do so.
Officers Michael J. Hagner and Kevin R. Branagan reported that they pulled Shaw from the car and he started throwing punches. Hagner punched him several times in the face and then pepper sprayed him, while Branagan said he punched him once in the chest, according to their reports.
Shaw maintains that he never resisted or assaulted police. The body camera footage shows a struggle, but it’s not conclusive about whether he was violent.
Hagner, then 23, wrote in his report that he suspected Shaw was a so-called sovereign citizen and worried he might be violent because of it. People who call themselves sovereign citizens refuse to recognize most federal criminal laws.
But Shaw’s attorney, Richard M. Wiener of Marlton, said that police only included that in their report to try to brand him as a violent extremist.
“Mr. Shaw does not and never has considered himself a sovereign citizen or a follower of sovereign citizen beliefs,” Wiener said in a statement. “It appears the arresting officer added that characterization to his report to provide a pretext for his use of force against Mr. Shaw, who simply questioned the need to produce his driver’s license.”
The body camera footage, spanning from the beginning of the sto to Shaw and Hagner at the hospital, captures Hagner discussing the incident several times but never mentioning anything about sovereign citizens.
Drivers in New Jersey are required to provide a license when stopped by police, as opposed to people stopped on the street, who do not have to give ID unless an officer has a court summons.
Hagner, then 23, said he saw Shaw driving slowly in the left lane of Route 73 around 1 p.m. and pulled him over at Green Lea Florist after seeing his registration was five days expired.
Shaw gave his registration and insurance card but did not give Hagner his license. He placed a call to someone he described as his “legal advisor” and told the officer the advisor was coming.
After Shaw continued to ask for proof of the law requiring him to show ID, Hagner called for backup and Branagan, then 31, arrived. He also asked for the license and warned Shaw that he would be “yanked out” of the car and arrested for obstruction if he did not comply.
The video shows the officers open the door, order him out and after a few seconds pull him out.
“Mr Shaw began to pull away and became combative with Officer Branagan and I,” Hagner wrote in his report.
The video shows a struggle, but it isn’t possible to tell if Shaw was throwing punches. An officer quickly orders him to the ground, but the video cuts out because the body camera broke, according to Hagner’s report. Branagan’s camera captures only part of the struggle on the ground, in which an officer orders him to give up his hands and the other officer says, “cuff him” nine times.
According to the police reports, Shaw said he was having trouble breathing. The video shows him sitting disheveled on the ground and not responding to questions.
When EMTs and supervisors were on scene, the video shows, Hagner told another officer that he hit Shaw several times in the face and that’s how he believes he injured his hand. He suffered a sprained finger, the report said.
One of the officers told Shaw’s wife, who arrived on scene, that he had scrapes and a bruise on his face but wasn’t seriously injured. His wife seemed at a loss for why he would refuse police requests, telling them that he was a youth counselor for the state’s Juvenile Justice Commission for 12 years and a Boy Scout den leader, according to the video.
Shaw faced charges including aggravated assault on a police officer and traffic violations, but they will be dismissed if he complies by the terms of a pretrial intervention order he and the prosecutor agreed to in 2017, according to the lawsuit.
Shaw maintains in his lawsuit that he never resisted or assaulted police, and said police did not give him a chance to get out of the car before they grabbed him and started assaulting him.
His suit claims police used excessive force in their arrest, subjecting him to injuries, trauma, humiliation and civil rights violations.
The lawsuit doesn’t specifically say that the incident cost Shaw his state job, but a spokeswoman for the Juvenile Justice Commission said that Shaw’s last day of employment was July 27, 2017, the same day that he agreed to the pretrial intervention program without admitting guilt.
The lawsuit also names the township and Voorhees Police Department, saying the department is negligent because it insufficiently trains officers to deal with people they suspect are sovereign citizens or who simply refuse to produce a driver’s license. Shaw is seeking damages, fees and costs.