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Federal Grand Jury Indicts South Jersey Officer Who Pepper-Sprayed Handcuffed Driver

Screen grabs from Grier's bodycam footage.
Screen grabs from Grier's bodycam footage. Photo Credit: NJ ATTORNEY GENERAL

An angry South Jersey police officer doused a drunk driver with pepper spray twice after he’d been handcuffed, then filed a false report about the incident, an indictment returned by a federal grand jury on Thursday alleges.

Another officer had handcuffed the disruptive driver and was beginning to put him in the rear of a patrol vehicle at a local gas station when Bridgeton Police John Grier III “grabbed a large can of OC spray and pulled out the pin,” Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael Honig said.

Grier, 49, of Cedarville, told the officer to “step back,” then asked the driver, “Do you want to feel pain, sir?” Honig said.

Grier pepper-sprayed the victim, who doubled over, the U.S. attorney said.

Bodycam video shows the other officer temporarily blinded by the blast. He tells Grier that he "caught it on the side of the head."

The officer then helps the victim up and sits him on the edge of the rear seat.

Grier then blasts him again.

“After the second burst of OC spray to the face, Grier asked the driver “How do you like it now? Now get in the goddamn car’,” she said.

He then threatens in the video to "give it ya again."

WARNING: The video below contains profanity.

Grier later filed a report saying the victim “refused [to enter the police vehicle] and continued to forcefully remain outside the vehicle,” Honig said.

In what she called “an effort to falsely justify the use of the OC spray a second time,” Grier wrote that the spray “did not strike [the victim] in the face” and that “it did not take immediate effect,” she said.

The incident began when Bridgeton police responded to the gas station on June 18, 2017 following a report that two men were yelling at passersby. An officer who found the men in a car parked by the gas pumps called for backups, which ended up including Grier, Honig said.

The driver and passenger received summonses and Grier left, she said.

“Within minutes, an officer who remained at the gas station radioed for assistance because the driver and passenger had gotten out of the car and approached him before he could drive off,” the U.S. attorney said.

“As Grier drove back to the gas station, he grabbed a large can of OC spray and pulled out the pin, allowing its use,” she said.

Honig added: “Upon Grier’s arrival, the driver was yelling at officers. Grier ordered the driver to get back into his vehicle and warned him that if he approached the officers again that he would be arrested. The driver and passenger returned to their car and drove to the side of the gas station. At that point the police officers had probable cause to arrest the victim for driving while intoxicated.”

The pepper-spray incident followed, she said.

An indictment unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Camden charges Grier with violating the victim’s civil rights and falsifying a record.

Grier surrendered Thursday morning and was released by a U.S. magistrate judge on $50,000 bond.

“One of the most important responsibilities we hold at the Department of Justice is the responsibility to investigate and prosecute police officers who abuse their power and deprive our citizens of their civil rights,” Honig said.

Federal authorities will continue to charge officers, she said, who “dishonor their badges by using force when it is neither reasonable nor necessary and thereby fail to live up to their duty to protect the public they serve.”

“The public has an absolute right to trust that law enforcement will protect those they serve and keep them safe,” FBI Newark Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. said. “When that trust is violated, it makes it more difficult for our fellow police officers and federal agents to maintain the community's confidence.”

Honig credited special agents of the FBI’s Atlantic City Resident Agency with the investigation leading to the indictment.

She also thanked the Internal Affairs Unit of the Bridgeton Police Department, investigators and detectives of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office.

Handling the case for the government is Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason M. Richardson of Honig’s Criminal Division in Camden.

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