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7 May, 2016 03:13

New Jersey state troopers arrest woman for remaining silent during traffic stop

New Jersey state troopers arrest woman for remaining silent during traffic stop

New Jersey state troopers arrested a woman on an obstruction charge after she refused to answer questions during a routine traffic stop, dashcam footage shows. Now the woman is suing the troopers, arguing that they violated her civil rights.

The arrest of Rebecca Musarra, an attorney from Philadelphia, took place on the Pennsylvania border. She was patted down twice and State Trooper Matthew Stazzone read her her Miranda rights, including “the right to remain silent,” before taking her to the nearby police station, where she was placed in a holding cell and handcuffed to a bench.

Trooper James Butler, a supervisor, watched the dashcam video and realized that there was no legal basis for the arrest. According to Musarra, Butler told her “a mistake was made, and to chalk it up to training and that [Stazzone] was just a rookie.”

Musarra was released two hours after the traffic stop, neither charged nor cited. She has, however, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit over the October 16 incident, claiming the state trooper violated basic rules.

Attorneys for the state have sought to have the civil rights case dismissed, claiming in federal filings that the troopers “acted in good faith and without fraud or malice.” They have not addressed the specific charges in the court papers.

NJ Advance media obtained the dashboard camera footage and documents through an Open Public Records Act request filed in April.

The documents show Trooper Stazzone pull Musarra over just before 9:30 pm, suspecting her of speeding, and was later joined by a second trooper, Demetric Gosa. Stazzone can be seen approaching the vehicle on the passenger side in the dashcam footage before asking Musarra for her license, registration, and insurance.

“While you’re looking for that, do you know why you’re being pulled over tonight?” the trooper asked her, according to the tape. Musarra claims she provided the documents but didn’t respond. Musarra said Stazzone was trying to get her to incriminate herself, but she declined to do so. After asking her several more times, Stazzone walked to the other side of her car, rapped on the window with his flashlight, and again demanded a response.

“You’re going to be placed under arrest if you don’t answer my questions,” he told her.

Musarra continued to decline to answer the question about why she thought she had been pulled over, but did identify herself as an attorney and told Stazzone that she was not legally required to answer his questions. Unimpressed, the officer proceeded to handcuff and arrest her with the assistance of the other trooper, Gosa.

When Musarra asked if she was being arrested for remaining silent, Gazzone replied, “Yeah.”

Gosa added, “Yes. Obstruction.”

New Jersey defines obstruction of justice as impeding the administration of the law “by means of flight, intimidation, force, violence, physical interference, or through any independently unlawful act,” none of which Musarra appears to have done in the dashcam video while sitting quietly in her car.

Musarra is a private attorney for a Delaware firm who sometimes represents immigrant children in legal matters pro bono. She told NJ Advance that she comes from a law enforcement family and that her father is a former prosecutor and her mother a former probation officer. She said she understands that “cops have a difficult job to do,” but added, “there has to be some sort of accountability.”

“Who knows what will happen to the next person who comes down the road who decides they have these constitutional rights they want to assert?” Musarra said. “What happens to them when they don’t have the sort of privileges I have?”