By Albert Samaha
By Darwin BondGraham
By Keegan Hamilton
By Anna Merlan
By Anna Merlan
By Tessa Stuart
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
Gail Lawrence was prosecuted for telling the truth about a Palisades cop
In his conclusion, Coppola wrote that in his initial investigation, he was "confronted by an uncooperative witness and a deceitful officer." The angry text messages that Roberson sent to Lawrence were "unbecoming of a police officer."
Roberson was formally charged with more than a dozen administrative violations.
Coppola concluded his report by saying several criminal charges "could potentially be imposed." But he did not make a specific recommendation. The big questions remain: Were charges considered? And by whom? Why were none filed?
On January 28, 2011, Lawrence was told that Roberson was no longer with the PIPPD.
Although Roberson had resigned, and the PIPPD's internal investigation had cleared Gail Lawrence of lying, the false-reporting charges against her were not dropped. In fact, she was about to face 18 months of legal hell.
Of the municipal courthouse in Alpine, New Jersey, Fried says this: "It's a boys' club. They do these rushed trials, and I've never seen anyone acquitted of anything over there. I've seen defense attorneys do these amazing jobs, and they still lose."
Lawrence continued to drive through PIPPD's jurisdiction. She was stopped once again and once again charged with attempting to elude an officer on February 17, 2011. She was taken to the Bergen County jail and held for six days. Then, the police involuntarily admitted her for one day to the Bergen hospital, again on psychiatric grounds.
In a May 4 court hearing, a judge told her she could go to jail for six months. That statement led her to call 911 later from the highway, and she was once again involuntarily admitted to the Bergen hospital, this time for eight days.
She began trying to obtain a copy of the internal investigation but kept hitting a brick wall. Meanwhile, her case, which should have been disposed of fairly quickly, went into the deep freeze.
On July 3, Andrew Samson, the private lawyer who acts as prosecutor for the municipal court in Alpine, New Jersey, replied, "This information is not relevant to the charges asserted, and as such, will not be produced."
On July 10, 2011, Lawrence filed an exhaustive request for documents. That request was ignored. On July 20, 2011, she asked the judge for time to get another lawyer and obtain more documents. The judge refused and ordered a trial.
She had trouble with a couple of previous lawyers. One of them, Rabbi Benjamin Kelsen, begged off of her case because he got appointed to the Palisades Interstate Court. Another simply didn't show up for a related trial on other traffic charges.
She was finally tried for the May and June 2010 traffic summonses, even though her lawyer resigned from representing her days before.
Lawrence made seven objections during the trial to being forced to proceed without a lawyer, but the judge, Roy McGeady, rejected them and said, "It's time to face the music and hear the trials. . . . I'm not fooling around with you anymore."
Despite Lawrence's objections, McGeady found her guilty of 11 traffic offenses, fined her $2,400, and suspended her driving privileges for 150 days. Arguing the judge had violated her constitutional rights to a fair trial and a lawyer, she has filed an appeal of that ruling.
"The entire proceeding was per se unfair, and the convictions must be reversed," her appellate lawyer Joseph Bahgat wrote.
Arguing that appellate courts should defer to the trial court, the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office fought the appeal and waived her right to counsel by refusing to accept the services of a public defender.
Bahgat replied that prosecutors were trying to distract the appellate court from a proceeding "riddled with errors."
The appellate judge found the trial judge had acted according to the rules and ordered Lawrence to pay the fines. (She has since appealed that ruling.)
Meanwhile, Lawrence still stood charged with fleeing from police on two occasions, refusing to provide identification, providing false information to a police officer, and making a false complaint in connection with Roberson.
In September 2011, during a court hearing, Fried learned that the Bogota police had turned over a videotaped interview of Lawrence to prosecutors and the PIPPD, which was never disclosed in discovery. Ten months after Lawrence's arrest, Fried was still seeking the full investigative file on the case. He had made two discovery requests, but neither had been fully complied with.
"The information in the IAB files certainly calls the PIP officers' credibility into question and may also give rise to a claim of selective enforcement," Fried wrote in a legal brief. "The failure to provide this evidence is not inadvertent, but rather the result of a deliberate suppression by the state," Fried concluded.
The prosecutor, Samson, insisted that was the first time he had heard of the Bogota videotape and objected to allowing Fried to review the internal affairs file.
In an interview, Fried tells the Voice: "They had documents in their possession from day one that they denied having because as long as they kept it in house, it would have never gotten out. If she hadn't complained to someone else, it really never would have gotten out."
Meanwhile, Fried argued that the treatment (traffic stops, summonses, and involuntary commitments) she received from Palisades police during the period leading up to her initial complaint and after amounted to retaliation and should be dismissed.