What to Know
- The use of seasonal officers has come under scrutiny following the violent arrest May 26 of a young Philadelphia mother on the beach..
- The Wildwood police department continues to investigate the confrontation for potential administrative punishment.
- Shore towns up and down the Jersey coast use "special law enforcement officers, or SLEOs.
Three seasonal police officers in the New Jersey shore town of Wildwood will not face criminal charges for the violent arrest of a young mother on the beach, the Cape May County prosecutor's office concluded following a preliminary investigation.
The officers, who have been on administrative duty since the Memorial Day weekend takedown and arrest of Emily Weinman feet from her 18-month-old child, have been on administrative duty. The officers involved in Weinman's arrest have been identified as Thomas Cannon, John Hillman and Robert Jordan.
A shocking video of the confrontation May 26 between the Philadelphia woman and the officers, who initially questioned Weinman about unopened alcoholic beverages, included footage of one cop punching her in the face twice.
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Weinman, 20, was already on the ground when the punches were thrown.
"As County Prosecutor, I recognize that the video footage has raised a lot of questions regarding the officers' actions," Cape May Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland said in a statement Tuesday. "A decision such as this is not based on emotion; it is based upon applying the proper laws, policies and directives that govern law enforcement."
Weinman's attorney has questioned why the officers continued to harangue the woman after she agreed to use a breathalyzer when asked by the officers and could be heard saying she had not drank any alcohol. She then refuses to give the cops her name.
On body camera video released by the police department, Weinman can be seen walking away from the officers, who pursue her on the beach. Moments later, a physical confrontation occurs.
"It's an overreaction and an excessive use of force," attorney Stephen Dicht said a couple days after the arrest. "If you refuse to give your name, then does that give them the right to pound you in the head?"
A leading civil rights attorney in Philadelphia, Paul Messing, previously told NBC10 that police officers are trained to avoid punching suspects in the face unless deadly force is necessary.
"The head punch, they're told not to do this. It's generally accepted police practice from the police academy on and one would hope that seasonal officers would be given the same level of training," he added.
The incident has raised questions about the reliance on part-time police officers in dozens of Jersey beach towns during the busy summer months.
Class II "special law enforcement officers," or SLEOs, work 40 to 48 hour work weeks, but make a fraction of their full-time colleagues. That's despite having the same responsibilities: They carry a firearm, make arrests and can operate departmental equipment.
Pay varies by town, but in Wildwood, SLEOs make $10 an hour. While training at the Cape May County police academy, they earn $7.50 an hour — less than the minimum wage of $8.60 in New Jersey.
But the dozens of Class II "special law enforcement officers," or SLEOs, who have walked the Wildwood beach over the years, do it for much less money: $10 an hour, actually.
Sutherland said the Wildwood police department's internal affairs unit continues to investigate the confrontation for potential administrative punishment. His office is monitoring that investigation, according to his statement.
Members of the public should understand that no matter what your opinion is regarding the subject event, it is not based on a full review of the evidence," Sutherland said. "Ms. Weinman and her attorney are entitled to due process and they have not yet received the information that they will be entitled to as part of the legal process."
Weinman faces aggravated assault of a police officer, resisting arrest, minor possession of alcohol and related charges.
Hundreds of SLEOs go through New Jersey police academies every year. The Police Training Commission, which oversees county academies, certifies roughly 500 Class II and 250 Class I SLEOs each year, according to the New Jersey Attorney General's office.
Class II SLEOs have broader authority than Class I. Class II officers carry firearms, make arrests and operate police equipment. Class I officers often act as crossing guards, parking enforcement and special event duties.
"Both of these categories of SLEO are required to attend and successfully complete basic training," AG spokesman Peter Aseltine said in an email. "The basic course for SLEO I is only a few weeks in duration. The basic course for SLEO II is very similar to the basic course for police officers."
The exact number of SLEOs patrolling Wildwood remains unknown. The police chief said June 1 he did not know the exact number of Class I and Class II officers on the books currently. Other city officials have not returned messages left or declined to comment.
The AG's office could only give the number of SLEOs that the department has sent to train at the police academy: Seven Class II and six Class I officers enrolled and completed training this year. Another 16 recruits for Wildwood are actively enrolled in training, Aseltine said.
In nearby North Wildwood, the police department hired 35 Class II and 15 Class I SLEOs to bolster their 29-officer full-time force, according to a Philly.com report.
SLEOs can work up to 48 hours a week in Jersey shore communities. In other municipalities across the state, they can only work 20 hours a week.