FOX 29 Investigates: Controversial NJ Traffic Stop

BRIDGETON, N.J. A routine police stop on a New Jersey street turns into a struggle between a driver and a police officer with a history.

FOX 29 Investigates obtained the video that captures the controversial incident, and Jeff Cole has the report.

It's early evening on the last day of March 2015 in Bridgeton, N.J. Police stop an orange Neon on the suspicion that the driver has a suspended license.

The car is being driver by Marella Lawson.

The officer is Bridgeton Patrol Officer Shane Sawyers.

The two have a history: Lawson has accused Sawyers and other officers in federal court of violating her civil rights during an April 2013 arrest in her home.

Their second meeting does not go well.

"Ma'am, open the car! Open the car!" the officer says. "Open the door! I'm going to break the window!"

Lawson refuses to roll down her window or open the door because she claims she recognized Sawyers and was fearful.

"When you were afraid, why were you afraid?" Cole asked.

"Because he was very aggressive," Lawson said.

"Were you concerned that you were going to have another altercation or somehow you were going to be hurt by him?" Cole asked.

"Yes, I was under duress," Lawson said.

The police dashcam video shows Sawyers and another officer approach the Neon with Lawson inside.

Sawyers bangs on the window a few times and, realizing Lawson is refusing to open the car, he pulls out his baton and strikes.

About one minute after approaching the vehicle, Sawyers is seen walking to the rear passenger window and begins to try to smash it.

He also calls a supervisor for approval and gets it.

"I am going to force entry now … unless you want me to code 9," Sawyers says into the radio.

The supervisor responds in part, "Take your steps and, uh, do what you got to do…"

Lawson calls 9-1-1 from inside the car on her cell phone.

"Can you please call a (inaudible) state trooper, please? Sir, he is trying to break my window. He is trying to break my window," Lawson tells the dispatcher.

"They're going to break my window," she adds. "I'm scared for me life."

Officer Sawyers keeps swinging, and the window shatters.

"Open the car, now!" he yells.

The officer climbs into the front seat, and the pair struggle.

"You are under arrest!"

"You already beat me up before!" she shouts back.

"Stop resisting!" the officer replies. "You are under arrest!"

"He's hitting me! He's hitting me! Help me, Jesus, he's hitting me!" Lawson yells.

When another officer tells Lawson to stop resisting, she says, "I'm not resisting." She repeats several times, "my arm is messed up," while an officer tells her to stop kicking him.

Lawson's lawyers say her shoulder is frozen as a result of diabetes.

The video shows all three officers try to cuff Lawson. Pepper spray is used on her as she and the officers scuffle.

"Stop resisting!" an officer yells.

"I'm not resisting, sir," Lawson answers.

"You are, put your hands behind your back, now," police order.

"They won't go behind me. I've got a frozen shoulder," Lawson says. "Please, Jesus!"

She's pulled from her car and pushed against it. She and the 3 officers end up on the pavement.

"You know what, take her down," Officer Sawyers says.

She's finally subdued and taken to the Bridgeton police department.

Originally hit with felonies, her attorney says they've been knocked down to lesser charges, including harassment and resisting arrest.

"What do you make of them criminally charging you?" Cole asked.

"I think it's not fair that they're doing that to me," Lawson said.

Last week, Lawson, Sawyers and other Bridgeton police came to municipal court in Millville, N.J., for the criminal case.  It was postponed.

Bridgeton's chief of police declined to speak on camera and said his officers are not allowed to answer questions.

The chief tells FOX 29 Investigates the county prosecutor has cleared the officers of any criminal violations, and he agrees. But he says an internal police department probe is ongoing.

Lawsons' lawyers have folded the traffic stop into their federal civil rights claim.

"This was a routine traffic stop, really a harmless lady, OK?" said Lawson's attorney, David Bahuriak. "And she says over and over [she] was not resisting. She was just afraid."

Again, Sawyers and the other officers have been cleared of criminal violations. But the Bridgeton chief of police is quick to point out that his internal affairs probe is ongoing.

Lawson awaits a criminal trial, one which her attorney says is likely to be heated, Cole reported.

The mayor of Bridgeton, New Jersey, wants to know a lot more about what happened after he watched our FOX 29 Investigates report.

UPDATE: Bridgeton Mayor Reacts To Police Traffic Stop Video

Have a tip for the FOX 29 Investigates team? Email us at fox29.undercover@foxtv.com or like Jeff Cole's Facebook page and send us a message there!

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