A former Paterson police officer already awaiting trial for beating one suspect over the head with a flashlight has been charged with doing it to another.
Spencer Finch, 46, of Mahwah, broke a victim’s nose, knocked out two of his teeth and chipped another outside a Quick’s Food Store on Dec. 22, 2018, an indictment returned by a grand jury in Paterson alleges.
In a subsequent use-of-force report, Finch said he was arresting the robbery suspect when he “became belligerent with police and shouted profanities,” Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes said in announcing the indictment on Wednesday, Jan. 18.
The suspect punched him in the chest, Finch contended, after which Valdes said the officer tackled him, slamming his face into the sidewalk.
When he stood the suspect up, Finch claimed, the man pushed off the wall and tried to hit him again, the prosecutor said.
At that point, Finch hit him in the head with a flashlight, causing the severe injuries that also included cuts to the victim’s lip and scalp, she said.
Finch's attorney, Eric V. Kleiner of Englewood Cliffs, called the charges "archaic" and "specious."
"This is a classic case of prosecutorial overreach, with people playing Monday morning quarterback on what is a 4-year-old robbery case arrest," Kleiner said.
Grand jurors reviewed video footage, testimony and official reports before determining that Finch’s actions weren’t justified, Valdes noted. They charged him with aggravated assault, official misconduct and filing a false report.
Finch – who was with the department for nearly 18 years – has remained free, with conditions, since his initial arrest in June 2021.
This time, Valdes said, a prosecutor will ask a judge to keep him jailed until trial. A date for that arraignment has yet to be set by the Superior Court in Paterson, she said.
The case that was already pending when the new indictment was returned relies, in part, on body camera video.
Valdes said it shows Finch clobbering a defenseless suspect with a flashlight and kneeing him in the face in an apartment hallway in May 2021. It marks the first time authorities have used body-cam video as evidence against a city police officer.
Finch filed an official use-of-force report claiming that he did what was necessary to subdue a combative suspect.
Valdes, in turn, noted that the victim was already handcuffed and that Finch whacked him “multiple times in the head” with a “C” or “D” cell type flashlight that has been prohibited for use by the department.
Grand jurors last July returned an indictment in that case charging Finch with aggravated assault, official misconduct, perjury, tampering with public records and weapons offenses.
Finch was initially sent to the Bergen County Jail following his arrest in June 2021. A judge ordered his release five days later.
City officials didn’t wait for a trial. They fired Finch following the indictment.
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