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Joel Barnes

Summary of Camden Misconduct
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On August 8, 2008, two police officers in Camden, New Jersey entered a house in search of drugs. At the time of the raid, 26-year-old Joel Barnes was at the house, asking a friend for help with a party. Barnes was handcuffed and searched, then placed in a police van.

Barnes would later say that Officer Antonio Figueroa returned to the van every so often to ask him about the location of drugs in the house. Barnes replied that he didn’t know. Barnes would say that Figueroa then told Barnes that the officers had found drugs during the search and that Barnes was going to jail.

Barnes was placed in a police car and waited some more. Barnes said Figueroa and Officer Robert Bayard came to the cruiser with a baggie of drugs and told him, “Tell us where the shit at, and we can make this disappear.” Barnes would later say that the officers acknowledged the drugs were not his, but that they carried a far lighter punishment than anything that would be found in the house. Barnes still said he knew nothing, and he was arrested and charged with three counts of possession of a controlled substance, including one with a school-zone enhancement.

Barnes entered a not-guilty plea, but he changed his mind as his trial neared. He would later state that he didn’t think a jury would believe his word over those of the officers. He pled guilty on February 23, 2009, to a single count of possession within a school zone and was sentenced to prison.

On March 19, 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice began bringing indictments against five Camden officers, charging them with a wide range of crimes and civil-rights violations, including planting evidence, falsification of reports, perjury and theft. The indictments followed an investigation by the FBI into the department after the Camden County Office of the Public Defender asked the Camden police department’s Internal Affairs unit to examine complaints about officer misconduct more vigorously. In later litigation, plaintiffs alleged that the officers’ actions went undetected because of a breakdown in internal affairs, which was understaffed and used antiquated systems.

Three of the officers – Kevin Parry, Jason Stetser, and their supervisor, Dan Morris – pled guilty. The other two –Figueroa and Bayard – went to trial. Figueroa was convicted; Bayard was acquitted.

Even before the first indictment against the officers, the Camden County Prosecutor had begun filing motions to vacate convictions and dismiss charges against defendants whose convictions were tainted by the apparent misconduct. Rather than waiting for individuals to come forward, the prosecutor’s office audited cases and then dismissed those if they determined that it was not possible to retry the case or proceed without the testimony of these officers, the evidence they had gathered, or the reports they had written. As word of the dismissals spread, other potential victims of the officers’ misconduct not identified by the prosecutor's initial review came forward. Ultimately, judges threw out convictions and granted dismissals for more than 50 defendants.

A judge vacated Barnes’s conviction and granted the motion to dismiss his charge on June 8, 2010.

Following the indictments, defendants began filing lawsuits against the city and the officers for violations of their civil rights. Barnes was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed on July 29, 2010, by the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. It was eventually joined with lawsuits filed in state and federal court by 87 other persons, including several who were never convicted and had their charges dismissed after the misconduct by the officers was brought to light.

The lawsuits were settled on January 10, 2013, with the defendants sharing $3.5 million. Separately, 14 defendants also received compensation totaling $516,000 from the State of New Jersey for their wrongful convictions. It is not known whether Barnes received state compensation.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 7/25/2022
Last Updated: 7/25/2022
State:New Jersey
County:Camden
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2008
Convicted:2009
Exonerated:2010
Sentence:Unknown
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:26
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No