Former student alleges ‘excessive force’ in lawsuit against Kean police
By Rebecca Panico | Published Sept. 13, 2016
A former Kean University honor student is suing the university and its police department, alleging that campus police used “excessive force” during his arrest in 2013, used racial profiling and harassed him on and off campus, court documents obtained by The Tower show.
Obidi Anamdi, 25, also claims he was discouraged from filing a formal complaint with campus police, and was fired from his off-campus job after an officer involved in his initial arrest told his boss that Anamdi was “violent” and “a terrible person.”
The state Attorney General’s office, which represents the state’s public colleges in lawsuits, had no comment. The suit named Kean University, the Kean University Police Department (KUPD) and a number of officers, including some who no longer work at Kean.
The university disputes the charges.
“Mr. Anamdi’s complaint merely contains allegations,” Kean University spokeswoman Margaret McCorry wrote in an email. “Kean University disputes his version of events and is opposing his lawsuit. Several counts of his complaint already have been dismissed. Mr. Anamdi was found guilty of disorderly conduct in connection with his arrest. He did not appeal that verdict. Kean University has no further comment as the litigation is ongoing.”
Lawyers from the Attorney General’s office said in court filings that a majority of the charges should be dismissed except for Anamdi’s excessive force claim.
After his arrest on March 1, 2013, Kean police records obtained by The Tower via an Open Public Records request show that Anamdi was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, hindering apprehension, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, terroristic threats, obstruction, motor vehicle citations for reckless driving, careless driving, failure to keep right at an intersection, failure to signal, open container of alcohol and driving while intoxicated.
He spent two days in Union County jail. On June 24, 2015 Anamdi, was found not guilty of all charges except for the municipal ordinance violation of disorderly conduct, court records say.
Anamdi, an international comparative politics major, was set to graduate from Kean just two months after his arrest in 2013, but alleges he had to transfer to Rutgers University because he was placed on a no-trespass list and faced intimidation and harassment from Kean police, according to his lawsuit, which states he graduated from Rutgers in January 2014.
The case is still in discovery – a period in which both parties’ lawyers gather evidence in a lawsuit – and no trial date has been set. Discovery ends on Nov. 22, according to Union County Superior Court Civil Case Management Supervisor Andrea Spears.
A LOST CELLPHONE CHARGER, AN ALLEGED BEATING
According to the lawsuit filed by Anamdi’s lawyer, Tisha Adams, Anamdi and two others were chatting in the Vaughn Eames parking lot on March 1, 2013 where he had dropped them off after a party.
Anamdi dropped his cellphone charger and started searching for it on the ground when Kean University patrolman David Balanta drove up to the group and asked Anamdi where he was coming from and whether he was speeding, Amandi’s suit alleges.
Balanta drove away after he was “satisfied with” Anamdi’s response, Anamdi’s lawsuit says, but minutes later, Balanta returned with patrolman Chris Blath and stopped at Anamdi’s car.
Amandi’s lawsuit charges that Blath stepped out of his car and questioned Anamdi, who was still searching for his charger with the light of his cell phone. Blath asked Anamdi to show identification and Anamdi’s lawsuit says that he complied.
Anamdi charges in his lawsuit that when Blath ordered Anamdi to put his hands on the police car, Anamdi asked why, and that “Blath became irate and maliciously beat plaintiff in the head and body with his baton causing severe bruising and lacerations to plaintiff Obidi Anamdi’s head and body.”
Amandi’s suit also names Kean University police officers Dylan Cosgrove, Brad Dustin, Keith Graham and Roberto Cruz, who he charges joined Blath in the beating.
“It’s very much a traumatic experience,” his lawyer, Adams, told The Tower. “It’s very much one he will never forget. It’s something that he’s going to live with for the rest of his life. It was definitely a violation of his rights.”
Police reports obtained through the Open Public Records Act give a different version.
Blath’s report states that he and Balanta saw a BMW driving “at a recklessly high rate of speed” at about 2 a.m. when they decided to follow his car into the Vaughn Eames lot since no one else was patrolling that area.
Anamdi ignored Blath’s requests to show identification and smelled of alcohol, a police report states. Blath’s report says Amandi kept his hands inside his pockets after police repeatedly told him to make his hands visible. Blath radioed back-up because Anamdi was ignoring his commands, his report says.
Police reports were filed by Blath, Balanta, Cosgrove, Dustin and Graham. Blath’s report alleges that an arrest was initiated for “hindering and disorderly” conduct after Anamdi began screaming and cursing and refused again to make his hands visible.
Anamdi was ordered to place his hands behind his back, but allegedly refused and began to push himself off the vehicle causing Cosgrove and Blath to fall into a patrol car. Blath’s report states that additional officers attempted to “subdue” Anamdi while he was still resisting and swinging at officers.
At one point, Dustin alleges that Anamdi tried to run away, but grabbed him by his clothing. Officers used their expandable batons to strike him in the legs and hands, police reports say. He was eventually wrestled to the ground and handcuffed.
Officers spotted a half-full bottle of ciroc peach vodka lying on the back of the seat of the BMW, Blath’s police report says.
Blath’s report alleges that when officers tried to put Anamdi in a police car, he called an officer a “slave driver” and said that they “picked the wrong educated black man to arrest,” before he had to be wrestled into the back of the patrol car. In the patrol car Anamdi allegedly said, “Don’t you know slavery is over” and “you are the white devil.”
Police reports also allege that during processing Anamdi said, “I’d kick your ass Officer Balanta see me outside (sic)” and “if you didn’t have your badge and gun I’d beat your ass.”
Anamdi’s lawyer says that a video of the incident in the Vaughn Eames lot exists. Police reports also confirm this.
The Tower put in an open public records request on June 13 with the Kean University Custodian of Records, asking for police reports and surveillance video from that night. On Sept. 6, The Tower received the police reports and was advised to go to student accounting to pay $1 for the CD that the video was on.
“Upon receipt of proof of your payment by cash, check or money order in the above amount, the CD will be released to you,” a letter sent to this reporter and signed by Custodian of Records Laura Barkley-Haelig said.
Student accounting was unsure of what an OPRA request was and asked for this reporter’s student I.D. number to make a payment for the CD. Upon showing proof of payment, Meaghan Lenahan of the Human Resources department told this reporter that the video was not ready. She did not give a specific date for its release.
ALLEGED INTIMIDATION, HARASSMENT ON AND OFF CAMPUS
Anamdi’s suit charges that after his release, Blath saw Anamdi giving another student a ride, pulled his car over, and shined a flashlight in Anamdi’s face. He then asked the passenger if she was being held against her will. She responded, “no.”
Blath allegedly looked at plaintiff and uttered, “I’ve got my eyes on you,” according to the lawsuit.
The next day, Anamdi went to the Kean University Police Department to file a complaint, his lawsuit says. An unnamed officer allegedly began questioning him in an “intimidating manner,” said he had heard about Anamdi’s case and that it wasn’t a good idea to file a report.
The officer told Anamdi he should “lay low” and that “staff was instructed by Lieutenant [Vincent] Kearn[e]y not to provide [Anamdi] with any information since [Anamdi] was charged with an indictable offense.” Anamdi left the station without filing a complaint because he was “intimidated and fearful,” his lawsuit says.
Anamdi eventually started a security job at Central Park, a restaurant/bar in Roselle. He was employed for approximately three weeks when he bumped into Cosgrove, an officer in the alleged beating, the suit says.
Cosgrove allegedly told Anamdi’s supervisor that he was “violent” and a “terrible person who makes trouble and should not be working for Central Park.” Cosgrove also said the restaurant/bar should not keep Anamdi as an employee because he was a liability, the suit alleges.
Anamdi was asked by his supervisor if he was facing charges from the KUPD, and Anamdi told him charges were pending. Anamdi was fired immediately, his lawsuit says.
Police reports indicate that Anamdi was put on a no-trespass list, which only allowed him to go to the cafeteria between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., go to class and use the library. Campus police saw him entering Harwood Arena on March 10, 2013 and told him to leave, which he did, a police report says.
On March 26, 2013, Anamdi was arrested for defiant trespass since he was in the cafeteria at about 5 p.m. He also had an outstanding warrant from Union Municipal Court, police reports say.
THE CHARGES AGAINST KUPD
This past May, Superior Court Judge Thomas Walsh dismissed some of Anamdi’s charges due to a lack of evidence, according to court records.
The judge dismissed the charges of abuse of process, malicious prosecution and infliction of emotional distress. Judge Walsh also dismissed a claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
But Judge Walsh said Anamdi’s lawyer provided enough evidence to claim his civil rights were violated under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act. The conspiracy charge — in which Anamdi alleges that multiple officers acted in concert and were motivated by racial discrimination — may also go forward, his decision states.
In his statement of reasons, Judge Walsh found that Kean police are not entitled to sovereign immunity, which contends that state institutions cannot break the law and are therefore immune from civil or criminal prosecution.
Some members of the Kean University Police Department are no longer working on campus, court records state, including patrolmen Cosgrove and Balanta. Former Police Director Adam Shubsda no longer works at Kean too.
Other defendants named in the case include Lt. Kearney, Lt. Darren Simms and Detective Sergeant Annie Coll. Michael Gorman III, who was a sergeant at the time of the alleged incident, is also named as a defendant in court records.
Gorman is one of several Kean police officers involved in another lawsuit, first reported by NJ Advance Media, in which a former Kean police officer alleges in-fighting as well as racially and sexually-charged pranks within the KUPD.