Thursday, March 28, 2019

A Case Study in Police Transparency: How A Lying Off-duty Cop Ruined A Man's Life


Source: Asbury Park Press

Michael Ryan is like any other law abiding citizen. He's a family man with two kids and was a supervisor for the school district in Hammonton, NJ where he had worked for 29 years, but that all changed one day when an off duty cop from another county reported him for a crime he didn't commit at a location he had never been to. Eastampton Patrolman Michael Musser accused Ryan of committing a lewd act in the parking lot of a South Jersey laundromat in September 2015; however, Musser did not report the crime to Hammonton Police until a week after he had supposedly witnessed it. At the time that the crime was supposedly committed, Musser did not record the suspect's license plate number or record a physical description, yet one week later Musser was able to recognize Ryan in a ShopRite parking lot and have him charged on mere hearsay. Even if Musser was not being intentionally dishonest, anyone who has a basic understanding of psychology knows how inaccurate the human memory is and that it becomes less accurate over time. The memory is not a recording of the past, such as a video, but a set of impressions that change as new information and biases are added; this is why eyewitness testimony is often unreliable and people convicted on that basis, especially capital offenses, are often exonerated later on. Of course, there is good reason to believe Musser was lying; he was known as a pathological liar in his own precinct and was fired by his own police department for lying in an internal affairs investigation a year after Ryan had been charged and convicted of lewdness. By that time the damage was already done; Ryan had been fired from his six figure job, sentenced to one year of probation, forced to pay over $40,000 in court fines and legal fees appealing his conviction, and had his name dragged through the mud, which he will probably never recover from. Fortunately, Ryan's attorney was able to uncover Musser's record of dishonesty, after Musser challenged his firing in a superior court a year later, and convince the judge to exonerate him. However, without Musser's lawsuit against his former employer, Ryan may have never been vindicated. Even though police departments in New Jersey are required to disclose to prosecutors information that may call into question arresting officers' credibility, Ryan's case was one of the few exceptions; the rule does not apply to officers who charge people with crimes outside of their county.
This case may set a new precedent for informing defendants about new evidence that may help their case.

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