Former Superintendent of the NJSP Colonel Joseph Fuentes Ordered by a…

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In an ongoing 3 ½ year-long case alleging false arrest and racial profiling, Fombah Sirleaf, the stepson of the former Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf is accusing the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police of condoning racial profiling, resulting in the alleged false arrest of the prominent West African, who was at the time his country’s national security chief. According to the allegations of the lawsuit, the state police violated Sirleaf’s and Summerville’s civil rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

As Sirleaf’s federal complaint describes, Sirleaf is a celebrated law enforcement official, he once worked undercover wearing an ease dropping device as part of a United States Drug and Enforcement Agency operation to help bust nine men who prosecutors allege were attempting to use bribes to build a new West African smuggling route to Europe, where $100 million of cocaine was destined for Europe and the U.S.

According to court documents, the false arrest incident began with a shopping trip to Jersey Gardens on an afternoon early in October 2014. Located in Elizabeth, the outlet mall is the largest of its kind in New Jersey. Visiting from Liberia, Sirleaf was driven to the mall by Summerville to buy extra luggage to pack his U.S. purchases for the return flight to Africa. According to court documents, Sirleaf and Summerville were forced to the pavement by gun point and handcuffed behind their backs as they were loading items into their vehicle to leave the mall’s parking field.

The lawsuit alleges that under Col. Fuentes’ command and with his awareness, none of the detectives were disciplined for any of their illegal or improper conduct in this matter. Generally, the lawsuit alleged, under Col. Fuentes command, efforts to retrain, supervise or discipline the New Jersey State Police force to eradicate racial profiling and racial bias have failed or been lacking.

As part of the litigation process, Sirleaf sought a deposition to discover evidence via Col. Fuentes’ direct testimony. Col. Fuentes challenged Sirleaf’s deposition request, thereby on January 17, 2017, Sirleaf sought the courts intervention through a motion to compel discovery. [Docket 69]. On February 17, 2017, Magistrate Judge James B. Clark III ordered Col. Fuentes to a deposition. On March 7, 2017, Col. Fuentes filed an Appeal of the Magistrate Judge’s decision citing United States v. Sensient Colors, Inc., 649 F. Supp. 2d 309, 316 (D.N.J. 2009) to support the argument that Col. Fuentes, as a high- level government official, cannot be deposed absent “extraordinary circumstances.” [Docket 74]. On July 27, 2017, U. S. District Court Judge Kevin McNulty found no clear error or error of law concerning the Magistrate Judge’s decision and reasoned that because Col. Fuentes is a “party to this litigation” and “the information sought” by Plaintiffs is “both relevant and necessary,” Col. Fuentes is compelled to be deposed, however, limited to two hours. [Docket 89]. On August 11, 2017, Col. Fuentes challenged the Court’s order and filed a motion for a reconsideration of the District Court’s decision. [Docket 92]. On August 30, 2017, the District Court referred the motion back to the Magistrate Judge reasoning that new material was included that was not initially reviewed by the Magistrate Judge. [Docket 97]. On January 11, 2018, after a full year of litigation of this one issue, the Magistrate Judge ordered Col. Fuentes to a deposition, however, Col. Fuentes was only allowed to be deposed “upon written questions.” [Docket 102]. On January 23, this latest Court decision provoked Plaintiffs to file a motion asking the Magistrate Judge to reconsider the method of taking the deposition since during the pendency of his January 11 Order, Col. Fuentes retired from his position of Superintendent of the NJSP, thereby, Sensient Colors, no longer applied. [Docket 103]. As of this writing, the Magistrate Judge has not decided this motion. Nevertheless, on June 22, 2018, after 1 ½ years of litigating the right to depose Col. Fuentes, Plaintiffs, in the interest of expediency, deposed Col. Fuentes upon written questions.

Sirleaf is litigating this False Arrest case in the United States District Court of New Jersey, Docketed as 14 cv 7653 and is represented by Jerry Graves of J. Graves Associates, 212 361-9399.

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