Prosecutors office in New Jersey are reviewing a video filmed by a man who caught a plainclothes law enforcement officer searching through his parked minivan, apparently without permission.
The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office in Paterson confirmed to the Paterson Press that the officer in the video is a member of the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office. The prosecutor’s office said they were reviewing the footage, apparently filmed by the vehicle’s owner.
The undated video, which went viral on Friday, shows a plainclothes officer in a red shirt looking through the trunk of the van. When the man who is filming asks the officer why he’s in his car, the officer shuts the trunk door and walks away.
As heard in the video, the man accuses the officer of searching his car illegally and tells the officer that he knows his rights.
William Maer, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, told the Paterson Times the matter has been referred to the prosecutor’s office “in an effort to assure an independent investigation of the circumstances around the video.” The sheriff’s office would not identify the officer in the video.
Maer did not reveal whether anyone was arrested in the incident. The date the video was filmed also is unclear
The Facebook page Mediatakeout shared the video, which has been viewed more than 1.7 million times.
When the man filming asks the officer, “What the fuck is you doing, yo ... What is you in my van for,” the officer shuts the van’s rear door and walks away.
The officer, still walking away, tells the man filming to follow him, but the man refuses. The man asks the officer again, “What is you in my car for when I’m sitting down eating with my family?”
The officer tells the man that “we’re getting a lot of complaints about guns,” to which the man replies, “Listen, I don’t care about none of that. What are you in my van for?”
When the man asks the officer how he accessed his trunk, the officer replies, “It’s open. It’s wide open.”
“Still. Still,” the man filming says in return. “You’re not supposed to be in my van sir.”
After the plainclothes cop is joined by a uniformed officer, the man asks the officers for their names and badge numbers.
“Y’all doing shit that y’all ain’t supposed to be fucking doing,” the man says while filming the license plates of police cars. “I know my rights.”
Ed Barocas, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, called the footage “troubling and disturbing,” in an interview with the Paterson Times.
“You have an individual who appears to be a law enforcement officer entering someone’s vehicle without permission and seemingly without any lawful authority,” Barocas told the online news site. “Not only is it improper, it’s a crime.”
Although the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures, New Jersey police officers may search vehicles without a warrant or the owner’s permission if they believe probable cause exists that a crime has been or is being committed.
In 2015, the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned one of its previous rulings and relaxed the standards for warrantless searches by police officers.