Human Rights

Lawyer Arrested When She Remained Silent During Traffic Stop by New Jersey Troopers

The cop seems to have conveniently forgotten the right to remain silent.

a young black man is up against a police car with his feet spread
Photo Credit: mikeledray

A woman who says she was arrested and brought in for “obstruction” during a traffic stop this past October has now filed a federal civil rights lawsuit. The reason she is suing is because her arrest for “obstruction” seemed based solely on her refusing to answer the question “Do you know why I pulled you over?” Rebecca Musarra is an attorney from Philadelphia and believes she understands the law a touch better than the two law enforcement officers who arrested her.

Musarra claims in the suit the troopers violated basic rules familiar to anybody who's ever watched a police show on TV, including the right to remain silent.

She claims at least three troopers insisted during the ordeal that her refusal to answer questions was a criminal act. 

The video below records the incident. According to Musarra, she was patted down and had no less than three officers in her holding cell tell her that her refusal to speak constituted a criminal act of some sort.

The dashboard camera footage shows Stazzone approached the vehicle on the passenger side and asked 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. She claims she provided the documents but didn't respond.

After she continues not responding to the officer asking the same question he tells her he is going to place her under arrest if she doesn’t respond. He’s clearly annoyed and tells her to get out of her car, at which point she asks him if he’s arresting her for refusing to speak, to which he tells her:

Yeah. Obstruction.

Musarra alleges that while she was in a holding cell later that evening a supervisor came in to ask

what had happened and then chalked up the event to the troopers involved being “rookies.” Musarra says everyone was very contrite after the fact, offering to drive her and get her car out of towing. But that’s not the point.

Musarra, a private attorney for a Delaware firm who sometimes represents immigrant children in legal matters pro bono, said she comes from "a law enforcement family." Her father is a former prosecutor in Warren County and her mother is a former probation officer, she said, and she understands "cops have a difficult job to do."

But, she added, "there has to be some sort of accountability." 

By the way—she wasn’t charged with “obstruction” and she didn’t “obstruct” anything but this guy’s inflated sense of self.

 

Walter Einenkel is a social media editor and writer at DailyKos. 

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