The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Will Matthews, ACLU National, (212) 549-2582 or 2666;
Allison Peltzman, ACLU of New Jersey, (973) 642-2086 or (201) 253-9403

ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Camden Police Officers Who Planted Drugs On Suspects

Case Highlights Urgent Need For Systemic Reforms


American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Jersey today
announced the filing of a lawsuit on behalf of an innocent Camden, New
Jersey man jailed for more than a year as the result of drugs planted on
him by police officers later implicated in a wide-scale drug-planting
conspiracy affecting nearly 200 other Camden residents.

Joel Barnes was at a friend's house
in August 2008 when Camden police officers Robert Bayard and Antonio
Figueroa entered the home without a search warrant, detained Barnes,
demanded information from him that he did not have and then arrested him
for unlawful possession of a controlled substance after planting drugs
on him.

Earlier this year, Camden police
officers Kevin Michael Parry and Jason Stetser, also at the scene at the
time of Barnes' arrest, pleaded guilty to numerous federal charges,
including conspiring to deprive others of their civil rights. Parry
admitted to a federal judge in March that he and several other Camden
police officers, including Stetser, Figueroa and Bayard, planted drugs
on innocent people and threatened to arrest individuals on charges
related to that planted evidence if they refused to implicate themselves
in crimes.

"Planting evidence on innocent people
in order to send them to prison is one of the most serious forms of
police misconduct, and police who engage in such behavior must be held
accountable," said Edward Barocas, Legal Director of the ACLU of New
Jersey. "Mr. Barnes deserves to be compensated for the year of his life
now lost forever and for the trauma he suffered at the hands of these
corrupt officers."

After Figueroa and Bayard entered
Barnes' friend's house on August 2, 2008, they unlawfully detained
Barnes in a van outside the home for more than an hour despite not being
in possession of any illegal drugs or contraband. Every so often,
Figueroa would return to the van and ask Barnes, "Where's the shit at?"
Surmising that Figueroa was referring to controlled substances, Barnes
truthfully responded that he was unaware of any drugs in the house.

Figueroa then pulled out a bag
containing drugs and said, "Tell us where the shit at and we'll make
this disappear." Barnes was told that the drugs in the bag would carry
much more serious criminal charges than any drugs that might be found
and that he would receive a shorter period of incarceration if he told
police the location of any drugs potentially in the house. But because
Barnes could only truthfully say that he knew of no drugs in the house,
he was arrested for unlawful possession of a controlled substance,
unlawful possession of a controlled substance with an intent to
distribute the substance and unlawful possession of a controlled
substance within 1,000 feet of a school zone - charges that ordinarily
carry between 10 and 20 years imprisonment.

"I felt helpless and didn't know what
to do," said Barnes. "I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, but I also
knew that the officers had all of the power and I had none. It's
disturbing that the police officers who are supposed to protect the
community were the ones breaking the law, misusing their power and
abusing so many innocent people."

Barnes initially pleaded not guilty
to all of the charges against him but, fearing a jury would be far more
likely to believe the officers' testimony than his own truthful
testimony, and not wanting to risk spending his remaining youth in
prison, he ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful drug
possession within 1,000 feet of a school zone. Barnes entered the Camden
County Jail on April 17, 2009. However, after Parry and Stetser pleaded
guilty to the criminal charges against them, the conviction against
Barnes was vacated and he walked out of custody freed on June 8, 2010 -
having served one year, one month and 24 days in incarceration.

"The plight of Mr. Barnes highlights
the urgent need for far-reaching and systemic reforms in the Camden
Police Department," said Jay Rorty, Director of the ACLU Criminal Law
Reform Project. "Had there been proper supervision, Camden's police
officers would not have been able to plant drugs on Camden residents in
the first place. The public's faith in the fairness of the criminal
process rests on the integrity of police officers. Concrete steps need
to be taken immediately in order to restore the public's trust in its
police force."

A copy of the lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Barnes is available online at:

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

(212) 549-2666