November 17, 2023
A New Jersey state trooper has been charged with aggravated assault for allegedly punching a woman who spit in his direction last year while she was handcuffed in the back of a squad car, the state attorney general's office said.
Nicolas J. Hogan, 28, of Gibbstown, allegedly struck the woman in the face while he was carrying a flashlight in his hand. Investigators said the woman spit toward another trooper moments before, and that Hogan warned her to stop before she spit at him.
“This alleged use of force appears to have been completely avoidable, and the degree of force used was unreasonable,” said Thomas Eicher, executive director of the attorney general's Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.
The incident happened Sept. 7, 2022 in Upper Deerfield Township, Cumberland County after state police responded to a report of a trespasser at a home around 1:30 a.m. Two troopers spotted a woman walking in the road who matched the caller's description. She appeared to be intoxicated, investigators said, and the troopers determined she needed a medical evaluation.
They called for medics to be sent to the scene, police said. More state troopers, including Hogan, responded to provide reinforcement. The woman was in distress and became distraught while being detained, according to investigators. She was not being placed under arrest and has not been named.
When the woman repeatedly tried to walk away from police, she was handcuffed and placed in one of the trooper's cars.
Before the woman was placed in the car, investigators said she had been spitting on the ground because she was upset and crying. Body-worn camera footage showed her face covered in mucus that was falling from her mouth, and she asked for a tissue multiple times but was never given one, the attorney general's office said.
While in the back of the car, the woman spit toward a trooper who was standing near the open rear passenger door, according to police. Hogan, who was standing on the other side of the car, opened the rear driver's side door and allegedly told the woman, "If you f***ing spit on a trooper..."
That's when the woman spit at Hogan and he leaned into the car to strike her, investigators said. The woman was secured in the back seat with her hands cuffed behind her back. The extent of the woman's injuries was not disclosed.
“We cannot have police officers assaulting people in distress while they are restrained and posing no threat. It is uncalled for, unhelpful, improper, and unlawful," Eicher said.
Hogan’s attorney, Anthony Pope, told Nj.com his client plans to plead not guilty to the third-degree charge of aggravated assault.
New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said the show of force against the woman "was used disproportionately and without justification," adding that his office would not allow the incident to damage the reputation of professionalism and restraint in the law enforcement community.