A group of police officers approach a wooden shed in a snow-covered patch of South Jersey, yelling, “Get out! Come on out!” to whoever is hiding inside as a police dog whimpers nearby.
Moments later, the officers drag their quarry, a Black teenager suspected of stealing a car, out of the shed and throw him face down on the ground. As they handcuff him behind his back, one officer steps on his head, pushing it into the snow.
“What did you do?” an officer asks, as a second one steps up and kicks snow in the teenager’s face. At another point in the encounter, which was captured on police body-camera footage, a different officer puts his foot on the teenager’s head.
On Friday, two current members of the Ewing Township Police Department in New Jersey and a retired lieutenant were charged in a federal indictment with violating the teenager’s civil rights by using unreasonable force in the incident. All three defendants are white.
The three officers’ actions were not only unwarranted, according to the indictment, but also unnecessary because other officers who were arresting the teenager had the matter under control and had not asked for assistance.
Two of the three men charged in connection with the incident — Michael Delahanty, the retired lieutenant, and Officer Matthew Przemieniecki — face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. The third, Officer Justin Ubry, faces up to a year in prison.
Each of the defendants was released on a $50,000 bond after an initial court appearance on Friday. They are prohibited from leaving the country, and they were ordered to surrender their firearms by Monday. They are scheduled to be arraigned on the charges next week.
Eric Marcy, a lawyer for Mr. Ubry, said his client had done nothing wrong.
“He’s a good police officer, he has a good reputation in the community, and his actions do not constitute a violation of federal criminal civil rights laws,” Mr. Marcy said in an interview.
A lawyer for Officer Przemieniecki did not respond to a request for comment. Mr. Delahanty’s lawyer could not immediately be reached.
The duty statuses of Officers Przemieniecki and Ubry could not be confirmed on Friday. The township’s mayor, Bert Steinmann, and the Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.
But Mr. Steinmann told NJ.com on Friday that while they had remained on active duty while federal investigators examined the matter, “obviously that’s going to change today.”
The incident that prompted the charges happened on a frigid morning in January 2018 as officers in Ewing Township, a Trenton suburb, responded to a report of a stolen car.
The vehicle had been in an accident when the officers found it, and they saw the driver run off. A short while later, they found him in the shed.
According to the indictment, Mr. Delahanty was the first officer who stepped on the teenager’s head in the body-camera footage, which was first made public by The Trentonian. Officer Przemieniecki kicked snow into the teenager’s face several times, and Officer Ubry did the same, the indictment says. Officer Przemieniecki was the second officer who stepped on the teenager’s head, the indictment says.
“Relax,” one officer can be heard saying in the video, adding a coarse insult to the admonition as other officers search the teenager — who has only been identified as being from Burlington, N.J. — before letting him get up. It was unclear whether he was injured — and if so, how seriously — in the incident.
The accusations against the officers were first raised by Lalena Lamson, a retired Ewing Township police officer, in a whistle-blower lawsuit she filed against the township in 2019 alleging various acts of wrongdoing in the department, according to The Trentonian. The F.B.I. subsequently opened its investigation.