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Gilbert Becerra

Summary of Camden Misconduct
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On November 20, 2008, police in Camden, New Jersey, arrested 19-year-old Gilbert Becerra and charged him with possession of a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.

Unable to post bail, Becerra remained in the Camden County Jail. He pled guilty to the charges in Camden County Superior Court on March 4, 2009, and was sentenced to a year in jail and three years on probation. He was released from jail on December 21, 2009.

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 –Antonio Figueroa and Robert 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 Becerra’s conviction and dismissed his charges on March 26, 2010.

Following the indictments, defendants began filing lawsuits against the city and the officers for violations of their civil rights. The lead lawsuit was filed on July 29, 2010, by the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Joel Barnes. It was eventually joined with lawsuits filed in state and federal court by Becerra and 86 other persons, including several who were never convicted and had their charges dismissed after the misconduct by the officers was brought to light.

In his lawsuit, Becerra said he was walking down the street at the time of his arrest and not in possession of any controlled substances. The lawsuit said, “When confronted with the false evidence that the state was prepared to present against him, [Becerra] was forced to enter into a plea agreement with the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office although he had maintained his innocence throughout the pendency of this matter.”

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 if Becerra 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:1 year
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No