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Charles Cottle

Summary of Camden Misconduct
At 4 a.m. on November 29, 2007, police officers raided an apartment in Camden, New Jersey.

Charles Cottle and a friend were at the apartment. Cottle would later say that police broke down the door and entered without a warrant. He said they grabbed him, kicked him in the head, and hit him with a flashlight. He said officers Jason Stetser, Kevin Parry, and Dan Morris took him in handcuffs to a police van and asked him about the location of drugs or illegal weapons.

Cottle said he didn’t know anything. He was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and sent to the Camden County Jail.

The officers, in their report, gave a different account. They said they had seen Cottle and another man sitting on the front steps of the apartment complete what appeared to be a drug transaction. The officers also said that Cottle had tried to run as the police moved in and they saw him discard a black plastic bag. The police said they confiscated 190 bags of cocaine and about $1,000 from the man with Cottle at the time of his arrest.

Cottle initially wanted to go to trial, but his attorney told him that was unwise. In a letter dated February 26, 2008, the attorney said: “Any trial would essentially be the police officers’ testimony vs. you and your co-defendant’s testimony. Given the fact that you and your co-defendant both have prior criminal histories, this case is likely to come down to a finding of guilt against you.”

Cottle pled guilty to the possession charge on April 8, 2008, and received a sentence of five years in 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 – Parry, Stetser, and their supervisor, 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 that relied on the testimony or reports of the officers. As word of the dismissals spread, other potential victims of the officers’ misconduct came forward. Ultimately, judges threw out convictions and granted dismissals for more than 50 defendants.

A judge vacated Cottle’s conviction and dismissed his charge on December 18, 2009. He was released from prison on January 6, 2010. He was not told of the reason for his release until he received a letter from the public defender’s office on April 16, 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 Cottle 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.

The lawsuits were settled on January 10, 2013, with the defendants sharing $3.5 million. Separately, 16 defendants also received compensation totaling $649,000 from the State of New Jersey for their wrongful convictions. Cottle received $44,634 in state compensation.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 8/8/2022
Last Updated: 8/8/2022
State:New Jersey
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:5 years
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No