TOMS RIVER – He doesn’t want to reveal his name, but will say he’s almost 50, from North Jersey. A husband. A father. A small business owner. And a former cop.
For nearly two decades he served in the public safety field, and when he wouldn’t falsify a report as he alleges his superior instructed him, he was harassed, falsely charged, which a hired attorney proved wrong. He sued and won, and was out of a job.
“No other department would hire a cop who tells on other cops, so I went into business for myself,” he said in an email to Jersey Shore Online.
We’ll call him Police State: New Jersey, after the YouTube channel that’s his, where he posts videos of himself off camera video recording the interior and exterior of government buildings.
It’s a video of him recording the exterior of the Toms River Police Department posted to his channel Jan. 4 that garnered the public’s attention. As of Jan. 9, it’s been viewed nearly 80,000. It received so much attention Toms River Police Chief Mitch Little addressed it on the department’s Facebook page.
“The police department has received a number of comments and inquiries regarding a person videotaping our facility and the subsequent encounter with our officers that has circulated on social media. The matter is being investigated and addressed as any other incidents that have come to our attention. Any actions by members of this department found to be against law or policy will be corrected,” Little said in the Jan. 8 statement. “We appreciate constructive criticism and the views of the public to assist us in serving you better.”
The video, which has been removed from YouTube, Officer Frank Moschella asking for identification from Police State, calling him a suspicious and needing to verify who he is, and threatening to arrest him for obstruction and hindering when he refused to provide any. Another official—Sgt. Dan Ruiz—approached a few minutes later and explained that Police State was within his rights to video record in non-restricted areas (there are parts of the property where recording is not allowed, and those areas are clearly marked), and did not have to provide identification as per state law.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Moschella has been with the Toms River Police Department for eight years, since 2011. Before that, he was a Class II and Class I Special Law Enforcement Officer with the Sea Girt Police Department for two years back from 2008-2010.
Police State said he is 100 percent pro-law enforcement. When he records, he hopes to capture professional and law-abiding behavior. But cameras in public are to who he calls “bad cops” like moths to a flame.
“So who is at fault for this negative exposure? You could make the argument that I am, for publicizing Moschella’s behavior and exposing the action which brings all this bad attention to the police. Or, you could argue that if Moschella had acted professionally from the beginning, there would only be positive exposure,” Police State said. “I go out hoping to document POSITIVE police interactions. I WANT to see police do the right thing and earn respect. Trust me, I DO NOT WANT to see police behaving badly. I DO NOT WANT to through the trouble of being arrested. I DO NOT WANT a lawsuit against police. But I WILL suffer through these things to ensure the public gets their money’s worth out of a public employee earning six-figures PLUS overtime, benefits, and a pension. This state is BROKEN, and I’m doing my part to help fix it.”
The police department’s Facebook post was filled with 64 comments by Wednesday afternoon.
“I watched the video. This was clearly an individual baiting law enforcement to attempt to make a point and certainly is not a resident of Toms River. As a resident, I can say I support our police department and have heard of ZERO incidents of abuse of power or attempts to violate constitutional rights,” commenter Scott Lagary wrote.
“He [Police State] is what is wrong with this country. Karma maybe someday someone will be at his home doing a “documentary” and he will need to call the police because he feels the person is suspicious. I bet his attitude will change quickly,” another commenter, Donna Susan, wrote.
“Watch the video people. If Moschella was in the right then his Sgt wouldn’t have shut him down in 2 seconds. We all have the right to keep all gov’t employees accountable. It is not their police station. It is ours. Moschella is dangerous. He patrols armed with a gun and doesn’t even know the law. He was within seconds of kidnapping and caging a man who was not committing a crime. The Sgt isn’t a hero either. He was just doing his job. That he gets paid for. With tax payer dollars. PS, The photographer is a former cop who left his job due to corruption,” Facebook commenter John Coughlin said.
Police State was in Toms River to file a complaint against another employee of the township who has been accused to not properly fulfilling Open Public Records Act requests. He gets requests for such “First Amendment Audits,” when a citizen exercises his or her rights to photograph or record areas in public. According to his YouTube account, he’s been making such videos for more than a year, and had recorded encounters in mostly Monmouth and Ocean county, although he’s been all over the state.
What got him into such auditing was a late-night encounter with an officer after he had left public safety.
“Two years ago I was stopped in Carlstadt by a cop at around 3 in the morning. He walked up to my window with a mouth full of chewing tobacco and spitting all over the road while he spoke to me. He told me I was stopped because there was no reason for me to be in the area at that time of the night. He hadn’t even asked me why I was there. I was leaving a sick relative’s house and I was lost getting back to the Parkway, but he hadn’t even asked me what I was doing there. I told him this is a public roadway and I am free to be on it any time of the day I wish and my business is none of his,” Police State said. “He then yelled at me ‘If you’re gonna be a f—-n smart ass lawyer I’ll yank you out of your f—-n window and throw your ass in my basement, mother—-r! Now shut your mouth and give me your license’. I then calmly explained to him that I was a cop…WAS a cop…and knew my rights. He immediately went to ‘Oh man, why are you breaking my balls, brother? You had me going…’ He knew his nonsense wasn’t going to work on me, but he clearly was used to behaving that way.
“That terrified and disgusted me that police behave that way. I started doing research and found other ‘First Amendment Auditors’ who perform lawful activities and wait for the bad cops to expose themselves. I knew I would be good at this, and got into it from there. I saw that my experience, while extreme, was not an isolated incident. Police all over the country are either poorly trained, or think they are above the law.”
Jersey Shore Online, knowing the Toms River Police Department likely couldn’t respond directly questions about this specific incident while being investigated, asked Little if the department had ever been through a similar situation before, and what corrective or ongoing training officers receive for this type of situation.
“We have dealt with another incident of a person videotaping outside of our police department. That incident did not generate an internal affairs investigation. This particular incident is being investigated by our Internal Affairs Division of Professional Standards to determine if there was a violation of policy and what course of corrective action will be taken from the findings of that investigation,” Little said through his media relations official, Jillian Messina. “Corrective action in any internal affairs investigation can result in anything from a verbal warning, re-training, counseling, written reprimand, suspension or termination depending on the violation, history of violations and progressive discipline of the employee. We do conduct periodic training as it pertains to issues such as this, media relations and constitutional law along with any training mandated by the Attorney General Guidelines.”
Police State told Jersey Shore Online he appreciates Little’s addressing the matter on social media. He said he would appreciate more an invitation to sit down with the chief and discuss the matter.
“I HOPE that Toms River P.D. use this as a learning experience and properly train ALL of their cops to know the laws they are paid very handsomely to enforce, and to respect the Rights of the people they swore an oath to serve,” Police State said. “I HOPE that other police departments see the video a pro-actively train their officers not to make the same mistake.”
In the meantime, Police State may be recording outside a police station or municipal complex near you.
“I support police who do their job correctly. I do not support police who operate outside or above the law,” he said.